Visitors are rare these days to the museum of Russia’s Space Research Institute in Moscow even though it holds gems like the model of the Soviet Lunokhod, the first ever space rover to land on the Moo
Visitors are rare these days to the museum of Russia’s Space Research Institute in Moscow even though it holds gems like the model of the Soviet Lunokhod, the first ever space rover to land on the Moon, in 1970.
While the Cold War space race fired such cutting-edge projects, Russia’s planetary exploration has stalled for the past three decades — until now.
Under an ambitious plan with the European Space Agency (ESA), scientists have new hope of again sending missions to the Moon and to Mars.
“The last decade was truly difficult for us,” the institute’s director Lev Zeleny said.
Among the biggest blunders was the tragic Phobos-Grunt probe, which in 2011 failed to reach its planned course to one of the moons of Mars and crashed back to Earth over the Pacific Ocean.
“But now the programme is entering a new stage for this decade.”
In March, a Russian Proton rocket is scheduled to launch the first of two missions under ExoMars, a joint venture with the ESA, to snoop out possible life, past or present, to the red planet.
Mr Zeleny’s hopes are high that this will return Moscow to its glory days of space exploration — if the project actually gets off the ground.
In the first mission, an orbital spacecraft will search for traces of methane in the atmosphere of Mars — possible evidence of biological activity.
For the second part in 2018, Russian engineers are to build a complex landing system to drop an ESA-built Martian rover to the planet’s surface, a platform not only to ensure a soft landing but also to serve as “a science lab in itself” for inspecting the landing site, said Mr Zeleny.
“If we manage this, it will be a major breakthrough,” he said.
The ambitious plan, however, has caused jitters among some observers and is dismissed as a pipe dream by others.
With the economic crisis, the Russian government is likewise pressed to make budget cuts and space exploration is far from one of its priorities.
The Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, is itself in financial limbo but went ahead and announced its programme for the next decade in January.