Russia Opens Talks With NASA And ESA With Plans For Manned Lunar Base

by Tammy Plotner on January 24, 2012

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Multiple images of the International Space Station flying over the Houston area have been combined into one composite image to show the progress of the station as it crossed the face of the moon in the early evening of Jan. 4. (Lauren Harnett)

On January 19, 2012, Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency began talking to the United States and Europe about the stuff dreams are made of… a manned research base on the Moon. The agency’s chief, Vladimir Popovkin, led off the discussion with officials from NASA and the European Space Agency for a permanent facility. “We don’t want man to just step on the Moon,” Popovkin told Vesti FM radio station, according to the Ria Novosti news agency. “Today, we know enough about it, we know that there is water in its polar areas … we are now discussing how to begin [the Moon's] exploration with NASA and the European Space Agency.”

But that’s not all. One giant leap for mankind often begins with one small step – or two. In this instance, Russia is planning to launch two unmanned missions to the Moon within the next 8 years. According to Popovkin, the plan is to either set up a stationary base on the lunar surface, or to put a working laboratory into orbit around it.

Don’t shoot these comments down just because they’ve come to light after a recent run of bad luck on behalf of Russia’s current space missions – most notably the doomed Mars probe Phobos-Grunt which crashed back to Earth following a malfunction. According to Fix News, “It was the latest mishap for Roscosmos and came after Russian president Dmitry Medvedev threatened to punish those responsible for previous space failures, which included the loss of satellites and botched launches.”

In the meantime, let’s focus on the positive contributions the Russians have made towards lunar exploration – in particular, the Luna missions which set many milestones. Of these, they were the first to successfully land a craft of the Moon, the first to photograph the far side, the first to achieve a soft landing and send back panoramic, close-up images, the first to become an artificial lunar satellite, the first to deploy rover missions and the first to return lunar soil samples which they shared with the international scientific community.

Russia? Keep talking… Spasiba for your contributions!

Original Story Source: Fox DC News.

About 

Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She’s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.

Kev Girard January 24, 2012 at 10:09 PM

Yess! I am happy about this. Nothing better than countries working together to achieve their goals and dreams as a species.

Prof. Michael O. Zimmermann Ph January 25, 2012 at 12:41 AM

It is the ONLY efficient way to move forward, pool resources and sources… do away with politics, let science and technology (as in commercial enterprises) lead the way.
In the case of SpaceX it shows (with a high probability;-)) that companies can do it cheaper…

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 12:46 PM

Co-operation can achieve a lot, but competition can be a great driver too…

Anonymous January 24, 2012 at 10:32 PM

Indeed, couldn’t be happier if nations around the world decide the best way forward regarding permanent habitation of the Moon was to work together. Let’s get the Chinese on board too, if they’re willing.

Anonymous January 24, 2012 at 10:41 PM

Bravo Russia, bravo…

Al Pickrel January 24, 2012 at 11:08 PM

It’s either going to be international or multi-corporate, and probably both

Anonymous January 24, 2012 at 11:44 PM

I think we need to ask the question: What is the purpose of this? It is in line with that “future vision thing” that we would have Clavius city, but we need to question whether this will really benefit us and whether the scientific impact of this is worth the huge investment required. If we want to just study the lunar surface I suspect rovers and robotic telepresence will serve adequately If we deploy more complex astronomical instruments on the lunar surface then likely intermittent astronaut lunar missions might suffice.

As much as UT features the ISS rather frequently I honestly think it is an orbiting white elephant. A plan to put up a lunar base might just amount to another form of the same thing. I’d rather see investments in deep space-cosmology observational instruments and an array of planetary missions instead.

LC

Prof. Michael O. Zimmermann Ph January 25, 2012 at 12:37 AM

The moon is the perfect place for fast-food chains, when the corporations are running out of earthly locations.

Seriously, LC, what kind of a question is this? Why go to Mars or elsewhere? Why look to the stars, if anything we see is in the past… what’s the benefit of that, in a practical sense?
It is most probable that ANY resources anywhere will not benefit us, unless they do not exist here AND it is possible either find a low-cost way of transporting them here OR BETTER produce whatever can be benefit us directly o indirectly… RIGHT?

Oscar Costa January 25, 2012 at 10:07 AM

Trade was the main advantage, the idea of going by sea to India was all about trading spices gaining money, it was all about profit, Columbus decided to get there going around the world, Vasco da Gama went around Africa, Vasco da Gama got to India Columbus discovered America.
Sea exploration was always about profit and with out it, it would have died at birth.

I agree with Icrowell although there should always be the idea of new frontiers and pushing progress and science forwards associated with space exploration, a long term objective and goals should always be associated with each project.

Look at the ISS it is a wonderful project but also a budget burden that has limited NASA in many other valuable missions (new space telescopes missions to outer solar system etc), also the international cooperation is not as productive as one might think, although it is nice to divide costs, the project gain plenty of complexity by the need to menage and coordinate teams all around the world (factories scattered by Europe, USA and Russia).

I like the idea of having commercial companies trying to create money around space exploration with NASA and other government institutions concentrating around science without looking at monetary profit.

Space X, VASIMR, Bigelow and Virgin should receive some incentives to try and create a business around space technologies and leave space telescopes and planetary scientific exploration to government agencies.

Torbjörn Larsson January 25, 2012 at 1:27 PM

I don’t think ISS has burdened NASA as much as it has strengthened it.

- Without the ISS the STS would have been the even larger elephant in the room.

- Without the ISS money there would have much less money going into space and its infrastructure.

Torbjörn Larsson January 25, 2012 at 1:33 PM

While it isn’t vital here, I wanted to address a point that looks funny to me, the complexity of international research labs. ISS isn’t anywhere near as complex as the LHC, the ITER or the MAXlab/MAX IV if we look at teams. Probably modern giant telescopes range up in that scale too.

So surely that can’t be anything that singles out space labs?

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 4:25 PM

I think Oscar Costa is on the mark here. The idea of putting so called permanent habitats in space, or on the lunar surface then maybe Mars fits into a sort of “future vision” where humans migrate out into space and we build a space faring civilization. That is all a big maybe at best. The major open question is whether this can be done in an economically viable way. It is not possible to compare this to the ocean voyages of the 15-17th centuries, where the intention was largely to establish trade routes and links with people “out there,” and to bypass the Ottoman stranglehold on the great trade routes to China and India. With space there is nobody “out there,” or at least nobody we are going to reach in the solar system. So there is nowhere the same economic imperative to space voyages.

The economic trajectory of space has been so far with communication satellites, weather forcasting, and related applications. These involve a massless commodity — information. If space is to climb up the ladder and develop a new commodity it will likely be massless as well. The only thing I can see as a possibility is with solar power satellites in geo-synchronous orbit. We might be able to extend our power grid into space and off Earth. If that could be made economically viable and made to grow as a profit center, then as time goes on there may then be more astronaut visits to these installations for deployment, repair and maintenance. This may then expand to semi-permanent habitats and so forth. From this baby step out into space humanity will then have to take the next one, which might involve NEO asteroids and so forth. Each baby step then pays for the next, with maybe a measure of government funding or “corporate charter grants” and so forth.

My sense is that spending tens or hundreds of billions of dollars to put up a lunar base is not likely to accomplish much. We also need to prepare ourselves for the prospect that our species may never move into space in any significant way.

LC

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 12:52 PM

Yes, I’d hate to see this project leech funding from other space projects. But if funding is boosted so that other projects don’t get cut, I’m all for it.

The science per dollar might be low, but look past the science: throwing money at new space capabilities will give us knock-on technologies useful here on Earth, and having a permanent base on the moon will do wonders for public awareness of the space industry. If more of the public can get more passionate about space exploration, they’ll factor that into their voting habits, and that in turn could lead to better funding.

Torbjörn Larsson January 25, 2012 at 1:24 PM

What is the purpose of this?

That is an excellent line of questioning. But it may be the wrong question.

The ISS, and a Moon base, analogs are permanent research stations in Antarctica and in the oceans.

The permanent Antarctica bases number in the 30′s, some established in the 50′s-60′s, and the US station is in its 3d generation. The permanent ocean bases with 3 today is an order of magnitude less, the oldest has been going since the 80s.

Seeing that we establish these stations wherever there is shared but potentially exploitable resources, scientific returns and viable tourist trades, the question instead becomes why space would be special:

What is the purpose of _not_ doing this?

If an answer applies in space, presumably it would apply elsewhere. It doesn’t seem to be so.

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 6:49 PM

“What is the purpose of this? ”

We have to dig up that monolith that is waiting for us.

Anonymous January 24, 2012 at 11:53 PM

We saw one country taking men to Moon, so maybe with more countries in tow we can get something more permanent done? Nicely thought, Russia.

Shawn January 25, 2012 at 12:21 AM

There will be commercial value in the venture, no doubt, the moon is bound to have mining potential. I would say that their best strategy would be to create a large enough landing craft to land over one of the large holes that they have recently found, anchor itself solidly and then fill the hole with air, which would then provide them with a larger living space. It would also give them an area that they could research without putting on space suits. They might even be able to pipe in sunlight and grow plants in it! Free oxygen! Give me a job NASA, I have all the good ideas . . . ;-)

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 1:33 PM

It wouldn’t be that easy to just fill a hole with air… the rock formed in an airless environment, it might not be able to withstand the pressure. Also, it would leak air very easily around the edges unless you somehow “welded” the spacecraft to the lunar surface. The lack of air and the structure of the rock would make such welding extremely difficult, maybe impossible. If you landed on a hole and it turned out the hole was no good, that’s a lot of wasted resources.

It would be far cheaper, easier and more reliable to take inflatable modules to the Moon and fill them with air.

Shawn January 25, 2012 at 10:34 PM

I do not think there would be a problem with it as you state; we have brought back moon rocks, and they do not look much different than the rocks on earth. If leakage did occur, it could easily be taken care of by using a piece that drops down from the spacecraft itself, that seals the walls of the hole. Problem with inflatable modules is that they are not permanent, and would have to be replaced ever few years. Creating underground living quarters also removes the need for expending excessive energy cooling or heating the environment; the moon has extreme temperatures. I would also strongly suspect that cost per square foot would be cheaper.

Anonymous January 26, 2012 at 10:18 AM

Even if the lunar rock was perfectly stable, there’s still an issue of attaching the module to the rock with an airtight seal. Although welding of metal to metal can be done in space (it has been demonstrated by the Soviets), a cursory search of the internet suggests that welding metal to rock has never been done – and I’m sure that’s not for lack of trying. Maybe rock is too crumbly when subjected to intense localised heat.

So the only way of achieving an airtight seal would be some sort of glue. Whatever the seal, it would have to be incredibly strong: strong enough to contain a large bubble of air at atmospheric pressure and stop the module from popping off into the vacuum of space like the cap on a pressurised bottle.

In any case I doubt the rock would be that stable anyway. Think about the conditions under which these holes formed in the first place: collapsed parts of the surface into emtpy lava tubes. Could that rock really withstand the stresses imposed on it by a bubble of atmospheric-pressure air?

All space eqipment degrades eventually, but I’ve not seen anything to suggest that inflatable modules degrade more quickly.

Anonymous January 26, 2012 at 10:24 AM

Disqus is doing some weird thing today… first it duplicates my comment and then when I try to delete the duplicate it gives it away to “guest”!

Anonymous January 26, 2012 at 10:20 AM

Even if the lunar rock was perfectly stable, there’s still an issue of attaching the module to the rock with an airtight seal. Although welding of metal to metal can be done in space (it has been demonstrated by the Soviets), a cursory search of the internet suggests that welding metal to rock has never been done – and I’m sure that’s not for lack of trying. Maybe rock is too crumbly when subjected to intense localised heat.

So the only way of achieving an airtight seal would be some sort of glue. Whatever the seal, it would have to be incredibly strong: strong enough to contain a large bubble of air at atmospheric pressure and stop the module from popping off into the vacuum of space like the cap on a pressurised bottle.

In any case I doubt the rock would be that stable anyway. Think about the conditions under which these holes formed in the first place: collapsed parts of the surface into emtpy lava tubes. Could that rock really withstand the stresses imposed on it by a bubble of atmospheric-pressure air?

All space eqipment degrades eventually, but I’ve not seen anything to suggest that inflatable modules degrade more quickly.

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 12:35 AM

We shouldn’t even be debating this it should be done, all of the money that has gone missing over the last decade alone could have paid for a sizable community on the moon easily, with enough left over for some giant leaps for mankind, instead our growth as a species has been stunted by fear, fear of this and fear of that, promoted by the people at the very top with the help of mainstream media and boogeymen, I find it incredibly ironic that the source of this article comes from one of those media outlets who have been at the forefront in the promotion of fear.

We need this it is long long overdue, remember when the world stopped to look up at the moon when the first of mankind was walking upon it, people around the world were united in awe of what can be achieved and inspired for the future.

Torbjörn Larsson January 25, 2012 at 1:35 PM

You are saying a lot without actually saying anything. What “fear”, what “promotion”, what “forefront”? References, please!

Fulbert Fulberto January 25, 2012 at 12:50 AM

Sounds like populist talk to me. The country that put all those Luna stations on the Moon ceased to exist more than 20 years ago, and most of the modern Russian space program is based on the hardware that was designed back in the days of the Soviet Union. I’d wait to see those Moon missions to succeed first.

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 1:37 PM

I’m not sure I understand your point. You seem to be saying the current space program is based on old Soviet hardware, but then you point out that that very same hardware has been successful in the Luna program. Isn’t that a good thing? That they’re using successful designs?

Torbjörn Larsson January 25, 2012 at 1:39 PM

Of course it is an attempt to shore up resources, why wouldn’t it be. International participation in the Russian missions would likely make them become better and less riskier.

Why wait? The science community wouldn’t be concerned with “entrance tickets” or “proving current status” but of results.

Jeff Foust January 25, 2012 at 1:42 AM

“On January 19, 2012, Roscosmos and the head of the Russian Space Agency began talking to the United States and Europe about the stuff dreams are made of… a manned research base on the Moon.”

Besides the clunky wording (Roscosmos is the Russian Space Agency) there is no evidence that any discussions between the head of Roscosmos and his American and/or European counterparts took place on January 19th (or any other date recently) on establishing a lunar base. As a NASA spokesman told SPACE.com last week, Popovkin was likely referring to the ongoing efforts of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, which features NASA, ESA, and Roscosmos, to study architectures for both human lunar and asteroid missions. Sorry, but there’s not much of a story here.

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 10:38 AM

Boy… way to pee all over this article. >.<

Torbjörn Larsson January 25, 2012 at 1:47 PM

Thanks for the heads up!

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 1:55 PM

On one hand it may seem as though money would be wasted, but having a semi-permanent Moon base would be quite an accomplishment, and would really give the people of each participating country a positive outlet, and develop a sense of pride and cooperation.

It would be great PR for the space industry, and seeing something tangible like this may encourage more young people to pursue science-based careers.

That said, Russia’s blaming the US for the grunt mission makes me feel a bit uneasy.

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 4:24 PM

The head of Roscosmos did not blame the US. He simply said foreign sabotage might have been involved.

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 2:18 PM

For the moon but also space colonization in general, the countries involved need to declare that no ‘country’ or group can start making claims in space. The last thing we need is the first and second Lunar Wars. But this WILL happen eventually if the various morons in power here on Earth, move out into space and start large colonies (which is about to begin).

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 4:28 PM

That declaration has already been made – the Outer Space Treaty went into force in 1967. Among other things, it declares the Moon a common heritage of mankind, so no territorial claims can be made there.

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 5:12 PM

Excellent; I wasn’t aware. I’m glad it’s been done. One wonders however, what additional thought will be required. If in the future there are a few billion people living on Mars for example, we need ways of preventing the ridiculous violent history of earth from repeating itself–something simple declarations might not be capable of, I’m afraid.

Shawn January 25, 2012 at 10:40 PM

Ban weapons of war; by then artificial intelligence will be capable of any administrative tasks, AI has no ego. Votes fed into the AI planet controller from the populace determine the outcome of necessary decisions. We could really use complete democracy here, we have an internet now, and no need for slimy politicians, lobbists, or the like.

Anonymous January 25, 2012 at 6:47 PM

Yes I want a moon base on the moon within my lifetime!
And my life is running out of time, so don’t wait!
I also want a live webcam from the surface of the moon.

Alex January 26, 2012 at 12:54 PM

Spasibo (thanks) – in russian language.

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