A Thursday report in RIA Novosti suggests that the Russian Federation is going to undertake the building of a lunar base, starting in 2030. This announcement comes hard on the heels of plans to build a super heavy rocket with launch capabilities similar to NASA’s planned Space Launch System. The project will start with a series of unmanned probes starting later in the current decade.
Russia has announced ambitious space projects before, only to see them fizzle. But this time the lunar effort is being taken seriously in the international media. The effort takes place not only in the context of renewed Russian assertiveness in the Ukraine and other places, but also against perceived American weakness, in both space and on Earth. Russia is also flush with cash, thanks to its oil and gas reserves.
Russian evidentially sees plenty of opportunities for going to the moon. They range from accessing valuable lunar resources to using the moon as a launching pad for further expeditions into deep space. It would also be a means to wipe out the humiliation it suffered at the hands of the United States when it lost the last race to the moon when Apollo 11 landing on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.
Along with Japan, India, and China, there are a number of private lunar efforts, most of them connected to the Google Lunar X Prize competition. China has a lunar lander and rover currently operating on the lunar surface. A company called Golden Spike actually proposes privately funded manned lunar expeditions. Conspicuous in its absence from the new race to the moon is the winner of the last on, NASA.
Thanks to the directive by President Obama, the space agency has renounced any intentions of sending people back to the moon. Currently it is confining its efforts to unfunded support of such projects as Lunar CATALYST. Due in part to efforts by unfriendly countries such as Russia, this policy has caused unhappiness in congressional and other circles. Thus far there seems to be no American reaction to the Russian lunar program.
Update: A Russian language account of this subject is illustrated with a doctored picture of Buzz Aldrin and the Russian Federation flag on the lunar surface, Thanks to Jim Oberg for the heads up.