Vladimir Putin, just re-elected in Russia, has recently declared that he plans to send manned and unmanned missions to Mars in 2019. He also plans to send missions to the moon and deeper into space.
The race is on. Who will get to Mars first? SpaceX? NASA? And why not the Russians? In any case, this is what Vladimir Putin wants. If we are to believe recent claims, Russia plans to get in on the action and set foot on the red planet some time in 2019. If this is to pan out, the Russians would get there years before the rival SpaceX missions (which have planned to send humans to Mars in 2024) and NASA (who are aiming for the 2030s).
Putin in fact announced the next Russian spatial missions in a documentary on the Russian social media site VKontakte, as reported in Newsweek. “We are planning unmanned and later manned launches, into deep space, as part of a lunar program and for Mars exploration”, can be read. “The closest mission is very soon, we are planning to launch a mission to Mars in 2019… Our specialists will try to make landings on the poles, because there is reason to believe that there can be water there. There, there is progress to be made, studies of other planets, distant space can be started from there”.
No additional information has been released for the moment. Although their will is strong, remember that when it comes to Mars, Russia has a history of failure. In 2011, the Russian probe Phobos-Grunt was headed for the red planet, with the goal of bringing back samples of one of its moons (Phobos) to Earth. But it became stuck in the Earth’s orbit and eventually fell into the Pacific Ocean. And that is only the most recent of several decades of interstellar failures.
Vladimir Putin has not explained either why he wants to send the Russians to Mars. Whether it is for glory, to deepen scientific understanding, or to claim international domination, one thing is for sure: Russia is planning to be a contender.