December 7, 2006
Russia Wants to Join NASA Moon Program
MOSCOW - Rivals for lunar conquest four decades ago, Russia hopes to join the U.S. moon exploration program with technology and know-how, a Russian space agency spokesman said Thursday.
Russia was conducting talks with NASA and voiced hope that a deal could be reached within months, said the spokesman, Igor Panarin.
"We want the agreement to reflect Russia's status as a great space power," he told The Associated Press, adding that Russia plans to contribute technology rather than money to NASA's project.
NASA said Monday that it would send a four-astronaut crew to the moon in 2020 and set up an international base camp on one of the moon's poles that would be permanently staffed by 2024.
Panarin said the agreement with NASA could be modeled on Russia's deal with the European Space Agency, which envisages launches of commercial satellites by Russian Soyuz rockets from France's Kourou launch pad in French Guyana starting in 2008. Under that deal, Russia would provide booster rockets and the ESA would fund launch pad upgrades.
"We could use a similar approach in the moon project," Panarin said.
Last year, NASA said it would cost $104 billion just to get back to the moon for its first trip, but NASA officials declined Monday to estimate the larger costs of a permanent lunar program.
Russia's state-controlled RKK Energiya has proposed its own moon exploration program that envisages setting up a permanent base on the moon, but the ambitious plan hasn't received government backing.
The Soviet Union sent numerous unmanned missions to explore the moon, including two rovers that studied its surface in 1970-73. However, it lost the race to the United States, which landed Americans on the moon in July 1969 while the Soviet program collapsed in a series of booster explosions.
Russia recently has agreed to help China, which is aiming to land a probe on the moon by 2010. Russia sold China the technology that formed the basis of its manned space program, which launched its first astronaut in 2003 and two others in 2005. The Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft closely resembles the Russian Soyuz.
Panarin said Russia could cooperate with both the United States and China in lunar research, dismissing allegations of a possible rivalry. "Space research is a vast field with plenty of room for every nation," he said.