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    Russia's space agency plans to build own orbital station

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    Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) will propose to the government the construction of a low-orbit space station to support future exploration of the Moon and Mars, an agency official said Thursday.

    MOSCOW, January 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) will propose to the government the construction of a low-orbit space station to support future exploration of the Moon and Mars, an agency official said Thursday.

    "We will soon propose to our government a project to construct a low-orbit complex, which could serve as a foundation for the implementation of the lunar program and later on - the Mars program," Alexei Krasnov, director of manned flight programs at Roscosmos, told a news conference in Moscow.

    Krasnov said that Russia, as well as other countries, "is looking at the Moon in a mid-term perspective, and would want not only to go there and come back, but to establish a lunar base, which would allow us to start exploring Mars in the future."

    "These are our intentions, but we are working hard to ensure that these plans get adequate financial and legislative support from the government," the official said.

    Russia, a pioneer in robotic lunar research, abandoned its lunar exploration program with the end of the Moon race in the mid-1970s, but the idea of exploring the Earth's natural satellite has been revisited recently, due to ambitious international projects to develop the Moon's resources and to use it as a stepping-stone for further space exploration.

    Roscosmos earlier said its first unmanned flight to the Moon would include a lunar orbiter to fire 12 penetrators across diverse regions to create a seismic network. These will be used to research the origins of the Moon.

    Krasnov also said Roscosmos would propose extending the use of the International Space Station (ISS) until 2020.

    The orbital assembly of the ISS began with the launch of the U.S.-funded and Russian-built Zarya module from Kazakhstan on November 20, 1998. Zarya, which means 'dawn,' was the ISS's first component.

    The project has taken longer than the planned five years, and as of July 2008 the station was approximately 76% complete.

    "We are considering the extension of ISS service life at least until 2020, but this decision must be adopted by the governments of all 15 countries participating in the project," Krasnov said.

    The project currently involves NASA, Roscosmos, the Canadian Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and 11 members of the European Space Agency (ESA).

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