The space race may be starting up again. Last week, Russia's space agency announced plans to build a permanent manned base on the moon. The announcement builds on a similar one earlier this year. The plan involves the Russians launching a lunar probe in 2024 to scout locations, then landing a man on the moon in 2030, eventually taking about ten years to build the lunar base. Russia's deputy premier Dmitry Rogozin summed up the plans in a Russian government newspaper, stating, "We are going to the moon forever." The latest rhetoric comes amidst growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia over space issues.
The plan sounds ambitious--too ambitious for space experts here in America, like Keith Cowing with NASA Watch. He tells KTRH the Russians are talking big, but don't have nearly the funding nor the ability to pull something like this off. "They don't have the money to do a lot of the things they've already pledged to do, and when you push for the details you find out the translator said we are not going to actually do this, we are thinking of planning to do it," says Cowing. "(The Russians) are masters in the art of lofting trial balloons, and like the old saying 'show me the money'...I don't see it."
As for the American space program, Cowing sees it as at a crossroads. "We have to decide if we want to lead and where we want to lead, and we need to be strategic about it," he says. "And we also need to use the smartest thing we have in our back pocket, and that is the private sector ingenuity." In recent years, NASA has been focused on sending a manned mission to Mars, but Cowing believes that could change. "Don't be surprised if suddenly we find out after the next election that NASA is actually focusing its efforts on going back to the moon," he says.