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The top man at Russia's leading space firm has mooted an ambitious expansion of the country's space effort. President of Energia corporation Nikolai Sevastianov said manned missions to the Moon and Mars were on the cards by 2030.

He said: "We can land on the Moon before 2015". His plan is to start mining the Moon for the 1m tons of potential fusion fuel helium-3 scientists say it has. They say this would be enough to power Earth for 1,000 years, and one experts estimates its value at $4bn per ton. This would easily offset the cost of mining it, Sevastianov said.

The corporation is pushing designs for a new Clipper reusable spacecraft to replace Soyuz rockets. Sevastianov envisions the Russian segment of the International Space station as a production centre for Moon and Mars shots. Japan and the European Space Agency have expressed intrest in getting involved in the enterprise.

George W. Bush, meanwhile, has already pushed NASA to realign its focus toward replacing the shuttle and returning to the Moon as a launch pad for a manned Mars mission.

He made the claims in spite of the ailing space programme's lack of budget for such endeavours. He reckons it could be financed by commerce, which given the Russians willingness to rent out their space technology to the highest bidder, is perhaps not as unlikely as it first seems.®

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