Russian space agency unveils grandiose plan to permanently base a dozen cosmonauts on the moon

Nick Faris 06.22.2016

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Russia’s plans to reach the moon may have taken a giant leap, as the country’s space agency unveiled its intentions to base up to 12 cosmonauts on the lunar surface.

Despite years of budget cuts, Roscosmos — Russia’s space program — has designs on building a permanent research, mining and exploration base somewhere on the moon by 2030, Russian newspaper Izvestia reported Tuesday.

It would be a massive — and some would say unlikely — achievement for a country that has never landed a human on the moon. It would also help ease a decades-old sting: losing out on the Cold War-era “Space Race” to the United States, which culminated in July 1969 with Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface.

Lately, the U.S. and NASA have shifted their gaze to sending humans to an asteroid and to Mars. Russia, meanwhile, is resuscitating a Soviet strategy from the 1960s, when the notion of permanently basing people on the moon was first floated. The idea was discarded after 1969, until now.

“At the first stage, the moon base will be manned by no more than two to four people, with their number later rising (to) 10-12 people,” Roscosmos spokeswoman Olga Zharova told Izvestia.

There is no proposed location for such a base as of now, but Russian officials are mainly considering the moon’s south pole, Zharova said. The space agency has said it plans to launch an unmanned lunar probe in 2024 to assess where the colony could be built.

They said the process of constructing the base would be done in stages, likely extending over a decade or more. The agency is reportedly developing a rocket to transport portions of the base to the moon over six separate launches.

It is a grandiose undertaking for a space agency that saw its projected budget for 2016-2025 trimmed by more than half last year, falling to a commitment of 1.5 trillion rubles, or roughly $30 billion.

In May, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told Interfax, a non-governmental Russian news agency, that “Russia will never catch up to the United States in the space race.” He claimed Roscosmos had fallen behind NASA and SpaceX founder Elon Musk by “ninefold.”

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