MOSCOW, August 4 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will start an experimental program for preparation for flights to Mars in 2006, said Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos.
"The agency is not planning a manned flight to Mars until 2015, although we will start an experimental program at the Institute of Medical and Biological Research next year," he told the Voice of Russia state-controlled radio station. "An international six-men crew will conduct a simulated 500-day flight to Mars."
Perminov said Russia would send a probe to Phobos, one of Mars' two moons, to test launch, landing and take-off procedures, soil sampling and practice the return flight to Earth.
Perminov also said Russia planned to continue its space tourism program.
"First of all, it is a way to finance the future development of the space program and secondly, it gives people without serious training the opportunity to make a space trip," he said.
Perminov said the flights to the International Space Station offered by Roscosmos were safer than sub-orbital flights advertised in the United States.
Perminov also described Russia's plans for strategic development of space research and exploration.
He mentioned space exploration, manned space flights and deep space scientific research among long term prospects and called the creation or modernization of an orbital group of satellites for various purposes, especially telecommunication satellites, a short-term priority.
"The agency can successfully achieve its long-term goals only through international cooperation," he said.
Perminov also said Russia was developing the Clipper space shuttle to combine the reliability of the Soyuz spacecraft and the comfort of U.S. space shuttles and feature increased cargo capacity.
The new spacecraft is designed to carry a six-man crew, including a pilot, an engineer and four passengers or researchers. It will be capable of 24 flights.