“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, said in a news conference which was held in Moscow on January 29th. “We are 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.”
With the construction of the ISS being behind schedule by at least five years, its pure operational period has shrunk to as little as five years. This is due to recent estimates, according to which the space station’s construction will be completed no earlier than 2010, while its retirement date remains scheduled at 2015. The possibility of such a scenario has led many scientists to propose “alternative uses” for the ISS – among these an idea sto convert the ISS into some kind of an interplanetary transport vehicle, which will serve as the “ultimate mother ship” in manned planetary missions to the moon or even Mars.
Roscosmos is working hard to push the project forward in hopes it will bring the agency closer to realizing some of its most wished for ambitions, eventually allowing it to set up a base on the Moon and using it to launch the very first manned expedition to the Red Planet. The major challenge currently standing in the way of Roscosmos is getting the approval and continued funding from all other ISS member states. “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,” said Krasnov.
Apart from the eleven members of the European Space Agency (ESA), the ISS project also includes NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Effective collaboration between the space agencies is crucial for the future of the project. “Everything depends on funding, the state of international partnerships, and perspective projects in the field” – said Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency.