updated 5/10/2004 9:04:54 PM ET 2004-05-11T01:04:54

Russia's new space agency chief said Monday that a human mission to Mars in the near future is realistic, provided that funding is adequate, and he appeared to express support for an ambitious plan to visit the planet within a decade, the Interfax news agency reported.

"The project is very interesting and I am not turning it down," Interfax quoted space agency chief Anatoly Perminov as saying in Berlin, apparently referring to a plan announced last month to send a six-man crew to Mars.

"Any project is flatly rejected by some and fully supported by others at first. We hold a fairly progressive, professional, neutral stance. We support it, and it should be further developed," he said.

Georgy Uspensky, a researcher at the Central Research Institute for Machine-Building, Russia's premier authority on space equipment design, said in April that it would carry out the project with funding promised by Aerospace Systems, a little-known private Russian company that says it draws no resources from the state budget.

Uspensky said the small $3 billion to $5 billion budget for the mission reflected plans to use already developed spacecraft, and predicted it would happen around 2011-2013. A spokesman for the Russian Aviation and Space Agency said at the time that he had never heard of the project and that it would be impossible to implement with such a meager budget and in such a short time period.

Perminov, who took over as space agency chief in a government reshuffle in March, said the project should be international.

"It would be very difficult for one country to carry out such a program," Interfax quoted him as saying. He said a mission to Mars would require adequate funding.

Perminov said the Russian agency has discussed moon and Mars projects with NASA, the U.S. space agency.

Earlier this year, President Bush proposed a human mission to Mars but did not set a timeline for such a trip, which American scientists believe would probably remain decades away.

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