MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei KISLYAKOV)

Russia that has developed state-of-the-art rocket engines is ready to use them within the framework of the international space program. Consequently, Russia is quite eager to explore deep space with the rest of the world.

In Moscow's opinion, such is the gist of international accords that were approved by 21 countries and 15 international organizations in the United States late this March. The concerned parties discussed interplanetary space-flight plans that were suggested by national space agencies. A document would be expected to formalize the discussion's results by August 2005.

Russia suggests that those involved in the Martian program use its nuclear rocket engines and propulsion units, Academician Nikolai Ponomarev-Stepnoi, vice-president of the Kurchatov Institute national research center, noted in early March. He made this statement at an international conference in Moscow that discussed nuclear-powered spacecraft.

We would develop such an engine and propulsion unit by 2017, if the relevant international decision was adopted today, Vladimir Smetannikov, chief designer of the Dollezhal R&D institute, believes. Consequently, it would be possible to launch a manned space ship toward Mars by that time.

According to Ponomarev-Stepnoi, the world's countries understand that long-range space flights are impossible without nuclear propulsion units. Incidentally, nuclear engines can be used to accelerate spacecraft, also serving as their power-supply systems.

It should be mentioned in this connection that the Energomash science-and-production association (NPO) had developed the first Russian nuclear rocket engine back in 1981. However, its comprehensive tests never took place because of tougher nuclear environmental-safety requirements in space research. The United States also conducted similar experiments, failing to test even a prototype version.

Nonetheless, theoretically nuclear-powered rocket engines cannot be called something entirely new. For its own part, the R&D institute of space systems near Moscow is busy developing a perpetuum mobile (perpetual-motion engine), of sorts. This engine that will have a virtually unlimited service life could be used on Earth and in outer space.

Our institute's staffers have been developing a non-jet propulsion unit for several years in a row, Valery Menshikov, who heads this institute, said in mid-March. A liquid or solid-state propulsive mass moves along a preset tornado-shaped trajectory inside this engine, thereby ensuring sustainable propulsion. Quite possibly, we are witnessing a hitherto unknown interaction between the propulsive mass and little-studied fields, including the gravitation field, Menshikov explained.

This unique solar-powered engine will have a service life of at least 15 years, developers claim. And it can be switched on 300,000 times, or so.

The institute's scientists believe their invention can play the part of an attitude-control engine or thruster. It can also be installed on aircraft and ground vehicles.

However, dependable engines are only one aspect of long-duration space flights. Radiation is the main hazard facing space crews. In this connection, the Russian Institute of Medical-Biological Problems has decided to conduct a special experiment, whose results will help shield space crews from radiation during long-range missions.

We intend to launch an experiment aboard the International Space Station (ISS) this year, Vladislav Petrov, who heads one of this Institute's departments, noted. This experiment will aim to assess the influence of the so-called secondary radiation on the human body. Cosmonauts streaking toward Mars and other planets may be subjected to such radiation. According to Petrov, the ISS will receive two neutron detectors that were developed at the Institute of Medical-Biological Problems. Such equipment has similar principle of operation as another Russian-made device now orbiting the Red Planet aboard NASA's Odysseus probe. One device will register neutron radiation inside the station; and another one will register external radiation. We will take into consideration Odysseus data on the Martian situation, while analyzing all aspects of this problem, Petrov stressed.

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