These days Russia's space program is mostly known as the only way we can get to and from the International Space Station, but the nation that came in second in the space race of the '60s may be about to change that. According to a leaked document from Russian space agency Roskosmos, they're finally going to the moon.
Russia's never really stopped trying to get to the moon, but they haven't been trying with any real urgency since Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins beat them there on board Apollo 11 in the summer of 1969. Now they seem to be refocusing their efforts through the simple act of setting a deadline: 2030.
Yeah, we know, it doesn't have quite the same dramatic flair as JFK's legendary declaration that we'd make the moon by the end of the '60s, but with Roskosmos reportedly in very poor shape it seems like 18 years is an optimistic timeline. Their last major project—the Phobos Grunt Mars probe—didn't make it out of Earth orbit and ended up disintegrating in the atmosphere earlier this year. Plus, there are now rumors that the agency's director, Vladimir Popovkin, suffered head injuries during a recent in-office fight. Not exactly a nurturing work environment, it would seem.
Naturally, the idea of a moonshot these days has stirred some debate among experts and officials. Yury Karash, a member of Russia's Academy of Cosmonautics, said the mission would only be a "hollow" symbolic move, given that it would take place six decades after NASA's first trip. He'd rather see Russia skip the moon and head straight to Mars, matching America's plan to reach the Red Planet by 2030.
But others disagree, among them Russian Prime Minister and President-Elect Vladimir Putin, who said last year that Roskosmos "should not limit itself to the role of an international space ferryman." Plus, there's always the chance that Russia hitting the moon could reinvigorate other international space programs and help bring some new energy to space exploration overall.
But of course, with money tight for space programs around the world, it might never happen. They've got 18 years. Let's see if they make it.
(via The Daily Mail)