Russia Proposes Sending Team to Mars
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RUSSIA PROPOSES SENDING TEAM TO MARS
By Mara D. Bellaby
Associated Press Writer
Friday, July 5, 2002
MOSCOW Russian space officials proposed an ambitious project on Friday to
send a six-person team to Mars by the year 2015, a trip that would mark a
milestone in space travel and international space cooperation.
Russia's space program hopes to work closely with the American agency NASA
and the European Space Agency to build two spaceships capable of
transporting the crew to Mars, supporting them on the planet for up to two
months and safely bringing them home, said Nikolai Anfimov, head of the
Central Research Institute of Machine-Building.
The roughly 440-day trip is expected to cost about $20 billion, with Russia
suggesting it would contribute 30 percent.
"It must be an international project," said Vitaly Semyonov, head of the
Mars project at the M.V. Keldysha Space Research Center. "No one country
could cope alone with this task."
Russian space officials said they are receiving encouraging signs of
interest from NASA and European counterparts.
But NASA spokeswoman Delores Beasley said Friday that the Russians have not
submitted any formal plan and that the agency would not comment on the
proposed trip before then. Because of demands from Congress to scale back
costs, human travel to Mars has not been on NASA's radar recently.
"We are still very far away," conceded Alain Fournier-Sicre, head of the
European Space Agency's permanent mission in Russia. "But this kind of
program is a long-term initiative for every space agency in the world," he
said, adding that he held a meeting with Russian space officials this week
to discuss the project.
Landing humans on Mars has long been a dream of Russian space scientists.
But even in the heyday of the Soviet space program, when Moscow reported
success after success, its attempts to reach the Red Planet were marked by
failure. Soviet scientists began whispering about a "Mars curse."
The Soviet Union kicked off Mars exploration in 1960 by launching two
unmanned spacecraft four days apart, but both failed even to make it as far
as Earth's orbit. One resulted in an engine explosion that scattered debris
and contamination over the Baikonur launch pad in one of the worst accidents
in Soviet space history.
That was followed by repeated attempts and often repeated disappointment.
The bad luck for Russia continued on Nov. 16, 1996, when the Russians
launched an ambitious $300 million spacecraft, Mars 96, which they hoped
would prove to the world that despite their economic struggles after the
Soviet breakup, they could still run a first-rate space program. Mars 96
suffered an engine failure just after launch and crashed into the Pacific
Anfimov said that despite the setbacks, "we never stopped planning and
seeking opportunities to reach our next goal: Mars."
NASA's Mars program, plagued by its own series of setbacks, got back on
track earlier this year when the unmanned Mars Odyssey spacecraft entered
orbit around the planet and began mapping the mineral and chemical makeup of
Anatoly Grigoryev, director of the Institute of Medical-Biological Problems,
which works with all of Russia's cosmonauts, said Russia's plan calls for a
cargo and a manned ship, which would consist of a commander, a second pilot,
a flight engineer, a doctor and two researchers. Three members of the team
would descend to Mars, while the other three would remain onboard the ship
Grigoryev said the trip could answer many of the remaining questions about
Earth's mysterious neighbor.
"Is there life on Mars? If there is, what kind of life?" Grigoryev said,
barely able to suppress his excitement. "This would be historic."
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