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20:31 GMT +3 hours19 December 2014
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Russia plans to launch first flight to the Moon in 2011-2012

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Russia plans to conduct its first manned flight around the Moon in 2011-2012, the president of a leading spacecraft company said Thursday.
MOSCOW, August 31 (RIA Novosti) - Russia plans to conduct its first manned flight around the Moon in 2011-2012, the president of a leading spacecraft company said Thursday.

"The Energia Rocket and Space Corporation plans to explore the Moon in three stages: a Soyuz spacecraft flight to the Moon, the construction of a permanent base on the Moon (from 2010 to 2025), and the industrial exploration of space around the Earth's satellite," Nikolai Sevastyanov said at the 5th Airspace Congress in the Russian capital.

He said the main goals of the lunar exploration would be to conduct astrophysical research from its surface, to transfer environmentally unfriendly industries from the Earth to the Moon, and to extract raw materials, including helium-3, to meet increasing energy demand on the Earth.

Helium-3 is a rare earth metal, which is abundant on the Moon, and is used in nuclear power reactors as well as being a conductor. It is also used in microchip and related technologies.

Russia is planning to use a modernized version of the Soyuz manned spacecraft, the workforce of the Russian space fleet, for the flights to the Moon, Sevastyanov said, adding that the first spacecraft would be ready in 2010.

The United States is the only country to have put astronauts on the Moon. Neil Armstrong was memorably the first in 1969 and five other missions followed him until the lunar program was wrapped up in 1972.

"Energia has started the development of a modernized Soyuz spacecraft," Sevastyanov said.

"New digital technologies will be used during the development and operation of the new spacecraft," he said. "Besides, the new space vehicle will be able to conduct flights not only to the International Space Station, but also to the Moon."

Sevastyanov said the Russian Space Agency and the European Space Agency had already expressed their support for the project and the first modernized Soyuz would be launched in 2010.

The Energia president said the launches would be conducted both from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan and from the Kourou launch site in the French Guiana.

Sevastyanov also said the first flight to Mars would be conducted after 2025. The expedition will use the Russian-made Clipper shuttle with a four-man crew and will last two-and-a-half years, he said.