Man's future in space ... Barack Obama: Mars. Narendra Modi: Mars. Vladimir Putin: Er, Moon

Roscosmos confirms carrier rocket tests in lunar base plan

The Moon

As India's boffins manage to put a probe in orbit of Mars on a shoestring budget, Russia has reiterated that it will boldly go ... as far as the Moon.

The head of President Putin's space agency has confirmed it will build a new rocket to reach Earth's natural satellite – first occupied by the US in 1969 – and set up permanent encampments in the next 20 years.

"At the end of the next decade, we plan to complete tests of a super-heavy-class carries rocket and begin full-scale exploration of the Moon," said Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko, TASS reports, confirming that carrier rockets will be tested following government-ordered research into the tech.

"By that time, based on the results of lunar surface exploration by unmanned space probes, we will designate most promising places for lunar expeditions and lunar bases," he added.

Quite why Russia has its sights set on the Moon, 45 years after Neil Armstrong made his giant leap for mankind, isn't clear: perhaps Putin just wants a large base in space from which to launch other projects, while remaining well away from the Americans. A Moon base is within easy reach, though not as exciting as a Mars HQ.

China also has its sights set on a manned lunar landing, but others spacefaring nations – such as Narendra Modi-led India – are eyeing up digs further afield than Earth's natural satellite.

Ostapenko said Russia planned to have its initial lunar exploration plans completed by 2025 and would look to put astronauts on the lunar surface shortly afterwards, providing it has the hardware to do so.

"Implementing the guidelines of the Basic Principles of Russia's space policy till the year 2030 and for a longer perspective, we have begun design works of a new manned spaceship, which will be the first element of a future manned system along with new launch vehicles – carrier rockets of the heavy and super-heavy classes," he said.

Russia is certainly a world leader in rocketry technology, thanks to the investments it made in the Cold War, but now the rest of the world is catching up. Last week, NASA signed a contract with both Boeing and SpaceX to provide rocketry services for the International Space Station, with the aim of reducing America's reliance on Russian rocket technology.

Building a new class of heavy rocket capable of delivering serious cargo to the Moon would help keep Russian space launches current, but there's precious little up there of value, unless Putin's pals have a pressing desire for some Helium-3 to use in fusion research. ®

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