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No plans to join NASA lunar program - Russian space agency

Russia will not participate in joint lunar exploration with NASA, but will assist the U.S. with its shuttle program until 2015, a spokesman for the Russian space agency said.
WASHINGTON, May 25 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will not participate in joint lunar exploration with NASA, but will assist the U.S. with its shuttle program until 2015, a spokesman for the Russian space agency said.

After U.S. President George W. Bush announced his Vision for Space Exploration in 2004, a plan for new manned lunar missions, the country's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) elaborated a program that envisions the construction of a manned lunar base, which will require broad international cooperation.

Igor Panarin said Wednesday at a news conference in the Russian Embassy in Washington that separate funds have not been earmarked for Moon exploration projects under Russia's federal space program for 2006-2015 and Russia will conduct its own lunar research in the next decade using unmanned spacecraft.

"Until 2015, we are planning to study the Moon only with the use of unmanned space vehicles," Panarin said. "However, after 2015, when our program is concluded, we might consider other approaches [to cooperation in lunar exploration]."

But the space official said Russia will assist India and China in their lunar research programs because they also envision only the study of the Earth's satellite by unmanned spacecraft in the near future, while the U.S. program involves manned flights.

China said May 21 its exploration project would involve three stages -- orbiting the Moon in 2006, landing an unmanned rover on the Moon in 2010 or 2012, and returning lunar soil and rock samples from the Moon around 2015.

Panarin also said Russia and China developed a joint program on Mars exploration, which involves the use of Russian technologies.


Speaking about the future of NASA's space shuttle program, Panarin expressed the hope that the U.S. would successfully launch all 15 spacecraft until the program ends in 2015, and reaffirmed the possibility that Russian Progress cargo vehicles could be used to haul load to orbit if the U.S. program encounters problems.

NASA earlier announced its intentions to gradually reduce U.S. shuttle flights to the ISS as problems with the spacecraft had plagued the program over the past years.

In April, the U.S. signed with Russia a $719 million addendum to the current International Space Station (ISS) agreement. Under the addendum Russia will deliver to the ISS 15 American astronauts and 5.6 metric tons of cargo until 2011.

"We would certainly want all 15 [space shuttle] flights to go on successfully, because each flight means 20 tons of cargo," Panarin said Wednesday, "I think we should hope for that, but consider the alternatives at the same time."

He said one of the options was the launch of Russian Soyuz spacecraft from a new space center in French Guiana constructed by Russian specialists, but the Soyuz must be modified to carry cargo in that case.

Panarin said that despite NASA concerns that the U.S. space program could be stalled for about five years between the end of the current space shuttle program in 2015 and the launch of a new Orion spacecraft in 2020, Russia and the U.S. "as partners and colleagues should support each other and find solutions [for potential problems].

Orion is a spacecraft design currently under development by NASA. Each Orion spacecraft will carry a crew of four to six astronauts, and will be launched by the new Ares I launch vehicle. Both Orion and Ares I are elements of NASA's Project Constellation, which plans to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2020, and then onward to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.


The Russian space official said Russia had been in talks with more than 10 potential space tourists, all of whom are foreign citizens.

"More than 10 people expressed the desire to participate in space flights as tourists," Panarin said. "We are holding preliminary consultations with them, and there are no Russians among them."

So far, five people have realized their dreams to see our planet from outer space.

Dennis Tito, an American businessman and former NASA scientist, became the first space tourist when he visited the ISS in 2001.

He was followed by South African computer millionaire Mark Shuttleworth in 2002, Gregory Olsen, a U.S. entrepreneur and scientist, in 2005, Anousheh Ansari, 40, a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin and a telecommunications businesswoman, in 2006 and Charles Simonyi, 58, a U.S. citizen of Hungarian descent and a key figure in developing Microsoft's Word and Excel applications, in 2007.

The space tourists have paid about $20 million each for the pleasure of spending a week on the orbital station, but Russia said the price for commercial space flights would go up in the future, reaching $21.8 million.

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