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    Russia to join U.S. lunar exploration program if funded

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    Russia will join the U.S Moon exploration program if Washington provides the necessary funding, a Russian space representative said Tuesday.

    MOSCOW, December 5 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will join the U.S Moon exploration program if Washington provides the necessary funding, a Russian space representative said Tuesday.

    After U.S. President George W. Bush announced his Vision for Space Exploration in 2004, a plan for new manned lunar missions, the country's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) elaborated a program that envisions the construction of a manned lunar base, which will require broad international cooperation.

    "If the U.S. offers the necessary financing for Russia to participate in its national lunar program, Russia is likely to accept the proposal," said Igor Panarin, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency.

    Panarin said separate funds have not been earmarked for Moon exploration projects under Russia's federal space program for 2006-2015.

    "The program includes a number of projects to study but not explore the Moon, as exploration requires separate and substantial funding," the spokesman said.

    NASA's Scott Horowitz, who supervises the lunar preparations as chief of the agency's exploration-systems department, said this week that the agency aims to return Americans to the Moon by 2020, and that the Moon is seen as a stepping stone to further missions to Mars.

    The Moon is thought to hold rich natural resources. Helium-3, a non-radioactive isotope of helium used in nuclear fusion research is rare on Earth but is expected to be abundant on the Moon.

    The permanently sunlit half of the Moon opens up good opportunities for electricity generation, and comet ice deposited in craters can be converted into breathable air, drinking water and even liquid rocket propellants.

    The U.S. is the only country to have put astronauts on the Moon. Neil Armstrong was memorably the first in 1969, and five other missions followed Apollo 11, until the lunar program was wrapped up in 1972.

    Under the conditions of the Cold War, those missions were in line with America's plans to out-compete the Soviet Union. If resumed, lunar missions will invariably have a scientific and commercial approach.

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