Russian, European Space Agencies Mull Permanent Moon Bases


The space agencies of Europe and Russia are moving toward cooperating in a sequence of missions to the moon that could lead to a possible permanent human settlement there.

The first mission, dubbed Luna 27 and intended to put a robotic lander on an unexplored area of the moon's south pole, will launch in 5 years' time.

Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, would lead the unmanned mission in partnership with the European Space Agency.

"The 21st century will be the century when it will be the permanent outpost of human civilization, and our country has to participate in this process," said mission leader scientist Professor Igor Mitrofanov, of the Space Research Institute in Moscow.

"We have to go to the moon."

While Russia would lead the mission, the ESA is working on equipment to help the probe in landing on the moon as well as instruments to conduct examinations of the lunar surface.

The south pole has been chosen as a landing site because scientists believe many areas of the region which are in constant darkness might harbor ice, which could be a resource usable by future manned missions.

It would be the first Russian moon effort since a lunar exploration program was brought to a halt by the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s.

Unlike in that era when the Soviet Union competed with the United States and other countries in a space race, for the new program "we have to work together with our international colleagues," Mitrofanov said.

The ESA's Bérengère Houdou, who heads the lunar exploration group at the agency's European Space Research and Technology Center near Amsterdam, echoed those sentiments.

"We have an ambition to have European astronauts on the moon," he said. "There are currently discussions at international level going on for broad cooperation on how to go back to the moon."

European ministers are expected to approve the ESA's participation at a meeting in 2016, with officials in the hierarchy  of both the Russian and European space agencies voicing strong support for the project.

Building a settlement for a permanent human presence on the moon's surface can provide both scientific and commercial benefits, Mitrofanov says.

"It will be for astronomical observation, for the utilization of minerals and other lunar resources and to create an outpost that can be visited by cosmonauts working together as a test bed for their future flight to Mars."

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