Russia’s space agency wants to focus on Moon if Mars mission fails

If Russia’s Phobos-Grunt Mars mission fails the country’s space agency may focus on Moon exploration, the deputy head of the Roscosmos agency said on Tuesday.

The Mars probe was launched from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan on November 9. The Zenit booster put the spacecraft into an initial elliptical based orbit but the main propulsion unit failed to put it on course for the Red Planet.

The craft, designed to bring back rock and soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos, is currently moving along a so-called support orbit. All attempts to establish contact with the spacecraft have so far failed.

“We will have a good think,” Vitaly Davydov told journalists at the Mission Control Center outside Moscow, “If it becomes clear that everything has failed and the insurance issue is settled… we will decide what to do next.”

“We have already said that we are planning to make the Moon our next step,” Davydov said, “It would be reasonable to focus on the Moon.”

In April, Davydov said Roscosmos did not have any concrete plans for a Moon mission, although “certain concepts and proposals” regarding such a mission have been put forward by Roscosmos experts.

Meanwhile, Russian space industry specialists are working on a project to build a manned spaceship with a nuclear engine to send missions to the Moon and Mars.

The draft design of the spacecraft is expected to be finalized by 2012. The financing for further development in the next nine years would require an investment of at least 17 billion rubles (over $580 million).


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