Vladimir Popovkin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, said Thursday that Russia is discussing with NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) a proposal for manned permanent research base on the Moon.
Ria Novosti reports that Popovkin said, "We don't want man to just step on the moon...Today, we know enough about it, we know that there is water in its polar areas...we are now discussing how to begin exploration with NASA and the European Space Agency."
Fox News reports Popovkin said the discussion is also considering an orbital station around the Moon. Popovkin, according to Ria Novosti, also revealed that Russia is planning two unmanned missions to the moon by 2020. Space.com reports Russia's planned robotic missions are called Luna-Glob and Luna-Resource.
Partnership in space exploration between Russia's space agency Roscosmos, the European Space Agency and NASA has been ongoing for more than a decade in the International Space Station project.
According to Space.com, NASA spokesman J.D. Harrington, commented on Popovkin's statement: "We believe Popovkin may be referring to the work of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) and its Global Exploration Roadmap. NASA has been meeting with senior managers from Russia and nine other space agencies to advance coordinated space exploration. The ISECG, as this group is called, has developed a long-range human exploration strategy over the past year."
Harrington said the Global Exploration Roadmap extends its plan from the International Space Station to exploration of the solar system, especially a plan for human exploration of the Martian surface. The plan, according to Space.com, considers two alternate approaches to the final goal of Mars exploration, "going to an asteroid first, or going to the moon first." According to Harrington: "Both pathways were deemed practical approaches addressing common high-level exploration goals developed by the participating agencies, recognizing that individual preferences among participating space agencies may vary regarding these pathways,"
Popovkin's revelation comes in the wake of failure of Russia's Phobos-Grunt Mars probe. The probe crashed to the Earth on January 15 after failing to leave the Earth's orbit. According to Pravda, some Russian officials have speculated that the failure may be due to sabotage and others have suggested that emissions from a U.S. radar station in the Marshall Islands may have caused Phobos-Grunt's malfunction.
Pravda, however, reports that NASA officials claim the radar on the Marshall Islands was not working during the launch of the Phobos-Grunt probe on November 9, 2011. Jean-Luc Margot, an astronomer at the University of California, has calculated the intensity of radiation that the Phobos probe would have been exposed to had it crossed the path of the most powerful radar beam in the world from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The astronomer, according to Pravda, concluded that intensity of the radiation was not sufficient to cause Phobos-Grunt to malfunction. He said, "The amount of exposure is about 10,000 times less than the level that is considered safe for humans by the FCC."
Russia's space program suffered a series of embarrassing failures in 2011, with failures of satellite and cargo supply launches.