MOSCOW, (Andrei Kislyakov, RIA Novosti political commentator) - The United States announced an ambitious program to fly to the Moon and construct a long-term manned station that could be used as a staging ground for manned missions to Mars. Implementing this project would be unthinkable without close international cooperation, however the possibility for that type of cooperation was uncertain. The situation changed after Anatoly Perminov, director of the Russian Federal Space Agency, and NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe discussed deep space exploration at the 55th International Astronautical Congress in Vancouver in early October. Perminov proposed a general plan of interplanetary exploration, which is supported by Russia's infrastructure.

In his opinion, preparations for a manned flight to Mars should begin with further exploration of the Moon, which will require many manned and unmanned flights. "In Russia, work on the Moon program has been going on since the Soviet Union - since the 50s," Perminov said, "and I can say ... that so far no other country has achieved the same results Russia has in its research and development."

The result of his proposal has been that the leaders of the Russian and American programs have agreed, "a state cannot implement such a large-scale program alone." Currently, there are no plans for joint work, however, there is a mutual understanding that plans should be worked out together.

In regard to manned interplanetary flights, Russia has accumulated a considerable amount of experience with life support working at the Mir space station and the International Space Station. Russia began work on technical problems like building an interplanetary manned station for flights to Mars in the 60s.

Clearly, the assembly and launch of such a station should be in a near-earth orbit, which would require an orbital assembly platform and an effective transportation and technical support system. It can be stated with a great degree of certainty that such plans are feasible. Therefore, there are provisions in Russia's 2006-2015 space program for designing an orbital base platform that would combine the advantages of a manned station and an automatic space vehicle. The purpose of the platform would be to test parts of a future interplanetary spaceship and next generation spacecraft for transporting cargo to earth and other planets. Right now, cargo can be delivered to a near-earth orbit from the Russian versatile Stand-Start launch complex, which was developed for the Buran shuttle that was successfully tested in the Soviet Union on May 15, 1987. In mid-October, Russia asked NASA to participate in the Kosmoport program, which will develop super-heavy carrier rockets to be launched from the Stand-Start complex. Kosmoport could breathe in a new life into the project and make it unnecessary for participants in future international projects to make large investments in ground-based infrastructure. "It already exists and should be adapted for new projects," Roskosmos spokesman Vyacheslav Davidenko said.

A common Russian-American concept for space exploration would allow both countries to coordinate also their national programs, which would considerably lower budgetary expenses.

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