In his January 14 speech, President George Bush unveiled a truly fantastic national space programme which, to all appearances, would seem to involve the United States and the entire international community in further space exploration.
Analysts openly note that this programme can only succeed if the White House opts for wide-ranging co-operation with Russia.
Moscow agrees with this approach completely.
The United States and Russia could independently develop and launch separate low-orbit spacecraft in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, Colonel-General Georgy Lysenkov, who supervised the Soviet space programme with other top managers until the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, told RIA Novosti. According to Lysenkov, their list included the reusable US Space Shuttle, as well as the less successful Soviet equivalent, the Buran shuttle. "However," he said, "any independent interplanetary mission would be economic and technological suicide today."
In his opinion, the US and Soviet-Russian space programmes used to develop along different lines because each country used its own space technology and information potential. The experience amassed by US space shuttle mission cannot be overestimated, while NASA acknowledges the fact that Russia knows much more about long-duration space missions. Moreover, Russian experts have mastered complicated orbital production processes and it is no secret that Russia still launches more interplanetary probes, which first started in the Soviet period, than any other country.
In short, the United States will have to utilise all the available theoretical and practical space exploration experience that has been accumulated by mankind over the last 50 years for the numerous planned Moon missions, the construction of a small lunar base and the subsequent manned Mars mission. No one can independently explore outer space at this stage.
The January 18 issue of Le Monde claimed that the United States would not allow foreign countries to take part in its programmes because it wants to protect its national industry. Among other things, this French newspaper mentioned a programme to develop an advanced space transport system, which will be drawn up by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin.
However, these claims are contradicted by the facts. When talking to reporters on January 16, Nikolai Moiseyev, first deputy general director of Rosaviakosmos (the Russian Aerospace Agency), noted that the United States had officially proposed that Russia help develop the Moon and the Red Planet. Moscow is likely to issue an official response to this US initiative soon.
We have made considerable headway in organising space probe and manned flights to the solar system's nearest planets, Moiseyev added. In his words, the Russian Aerospace Agency has received 3,000 pages worth of R&D projects from space industry enterprises and these projects will be included in the national space programme until 2015. For instance, we have received interplanetary spacecraft designs, Moiseyev added.
Russian spacecraft developers have also reacted positively to possible Russian-US co-operation. Talking to China's Renmin Ribao (People's Daily) on January 16, Vyacheslav Filin, deputy general designer of the Energiya space-rocket corporation, noted that Russia could and should take part in US projects. Inter-planetary research must continue for several reasons. "The world's power industry is facing an imminent crisis," he said, "but the Moon abounds in helium-3 isotopes, which can be used to generate power for several centuries."
The scientist also added that political aspects had to be considered because China has recently announced its intention to fly to the Moon.
It is difficult to assess the various opportunities being opened up by the Chinese space programme for implementing the ambitious US or Russian plans. However, close-knit and wide-ranging international co-operation evidently seems possible and even inevitable in every area of space exploration.