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Space Race: Russia announces plan to send probe to moon in 2015

Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, has announced that the country will begin its exploration of the moon after almost 40 years of silence. The rebirth of Russia’s lunar exploration will begin in 2015 when at least four robot probes are scheduled to be sent to the moon. In addition, Roskosmos is planning to send a team of Russia astronauts to moon no later than 2030.

The newly planned mission to Mars is expected to be developed and launched from a new space center named Vostochny Kosmodrome. The space center, which cost an estimated $1 billion, is currently being constructed in the far east of Russia in the Amur region.

With the Russian space agency’s attention back on the moon, many experts believe the country is trying to salvage its reputation in space exploration after a slew of failed missions in the last few years. In fact, at one point Russian officials were so frustrated with the lack of progress from the Roskosmos that they blamed the mishaps on foreign sabotage.

Among the failed missions of the Russian space agency include multiple crashes of the Proton rocket booster, a key space craft in Russian exploration. In recent years, Moscow aimed to place a global positioning system in space that would rival the GPS network in America. Despite the ambition, the mission failed after running into multiple problems including the loss of many necessary payloads on the satellite.

Perhaps the most devastating letdown of the Roskosmos has been the failure of the Mars probe named Phobos-Grunt a year ago. The probe’s mission was to travel to Phobos, the moon of Mars, and bring back samples to be studied by Russian scientists. However, the probe never left Earth’s orbit where its engines stalled and crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

Igor Lisov, a columnist for the Russian space journal Novosti Kosmonavtiki, said the Phobos-Grunt disaster was what inspired the new moon missions. “We were so depressed after what happened to Phobos-Grunt, that the decision was made to turn to more simple and readily accessible projects. The moon is a step to all the rest,” he said. “The timing is reasonable, the plan is logical, and there’s clear understanding about what to do and when to do it. It’s a matter of state interest.”

The new lunar exploration mission will begin in 2015 when a 1.2 ton lunar spacecraft named Luna-Glob, or Moon Globe, will be launched. The spacecraft will then begin to pillage the moon for water and soil samples to return to Earth.

According to Vladimir Popovkin, the chief of Roskosmos, the lunar mission will being with this small step and develop after that. “We will begin our exploration of the moon from there,” he explained to Russian journalists.