A crewed mission to the moon is possible by 2020, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin, said in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station on Thursday.
"Today science is ripe for using the moon. I think that by 2020 a man will land on the moon,” Popovkin said.
He also said Russia’s previously announced cosmonaut recruitment drive will focus on preparing crews for a moon mission. The competition will be open for every Russian citizen with technical or medical education.
“I can say that this group will most likely be trained for a lunar mission,” he said.
On January 19, Popovkin voiced plans to set up manned moon research bases with European and U.S. partners, saying that there were plans to either set up a moon base or to launch an orbital station. To that end, Russia is currently developing a “prospective manned transportation system” to be sent to the moon, he added.
Russia is also planning to send two unmanned moon missions by 2020, Luna-Glob (Lunar Sphere) and Luna-Resurs in 2015. The launch timeframe, however, may be reviewed because the two spacecraft are being built with the same technologies as Russia’s failed mission to Phobos and are therefore vulnerable to cosmic radiation.
The moon base project has similarities Cold War-era plans to create a permanent outpost on the moon, which has been envisioned by some Soviet and U.S. scientists since the late 1950s.
A week after Popovkin’s announcement of a moon base construction project, U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich promised to build a moon base by 2020 if he becomes the next U.S. president in November.
"By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American," he said, adding the base would have capacity that “the Chinese and the Russians will never come anywhere close to matching.”