A spacecraft will “conduct a demonstrative manned circumlunar test flight with the subsequent landing of cosmonauts on [the Moon’s] surface and their return to Earth” by 2030, according to a leaked strategy document from Russia’s space agency, Roskosmos.
Moscow has periodically announced ambitious plans for space exploration in recent years, but this is the first time a firm deadline has been set for a manned lunar mission.
Russia won the first round of the space race when it launched the first man to orbit the Earth, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin Jr, however, fulfilled John F Kennedy’s promise to reach the Moon by the end of the decade, landing there on July 20, 1969, with Nasa’s Apollo 11. The Soviet Union subsequently cancelled its lunar programmes.
Plans to send cosmonauts to the Moon could help revive Russia’s space programme after a troubled period. A series of satellites crashed last year and in January the Mars probe, Fobos Grunt, fell to Earth after a faulty launch two months earlier. Last week, Roskosmos suffered another humiliation after reports that the head of the agency, Vladimir Popovkin, had sustained head injuries after an alleged brawl at work.
Yury Karash, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, said that prestige would not be restored with a symbolic flight to the Moon. “Back in the 1960s the Soviet Union was competing head-to-head with the United States,” he said.