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Russia will put cosmonauts on the Moon by 2025, the head of the country's space agency has said. A permanent manned base might follow.

"According to our estimates we will be ready for a manned flight to the Moon in 2025," Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov told AFP. He said that Russia could establish a lunar "inhabited station" between 2027 and 2032.

Manned moon visits have only ever been carried out by the USA, with six Apollo missions landing astronauts on the Earth's satellite from 1969 to 1972. According to NASA, the Apollo programme cost $19.4bn. Assuming 1970 dollars, that would equate to $104bn-odd today, which is a lot of oil and gas revenue for the Kremlin to spend.

The US is also planning future manned trips to the moon, using staged-rocket technology rather similar to that of the Apollo programme, and a moonbase - and then on to Mars.

In the nearer term Roskosmos plans to complete its parts of the International Space Station by 2015, and carry out "major modernisation" to its Soyuz orbital-lift craft.

Russia might get around to cosmonauts on Mars after 2035, according to Perminov. he said that difficulties with background radiation in space would be hard to surmount, and the two or three year length of the journey would "involve huge challenges in terms of storage space and stress on the crew" - according to AFP.

Nothing was actually said about vodka, apparently.®

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