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Russian leader sees bigger space role

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Russia could collaborate on ambitious U.S. space plans.
/ Source: Reuters

President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Russia could collaborate on ambitious U.S. space plans, sounding a warmer note than Russian space officials who had said they would rather follow their own plans.

Shedding some light on what those plans might be, a Moscow science institute said six volunteers would spend 500 days locked up in a space module on Earth in an experiment to simulate a mission to Mars.

President Bush, who faces re-election this year, laid out plans two weeks ago to send astronauts to the moon and eventually to Mars, on whose surface two NASA rovers are currently roaming to examine the soil.

Bush invited other nations to join in with his proposals.

“We followed with interest President Bush’s ambitious plans with regard to the moon and Mars,” Putin said during a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Moscow. “In this area there is much we can do together.”

Simulated mission
Some Russian space officials had initially been cooler, saying they did not want to start a new space race but had their own ideas — such as the simulated mission.

Russian news agencies reported that the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems was planning the experiment to research how humans would cope on an 18- to 24-month round trip to the Red Planet, 283 million miles away.

Interfax quoted Viktor Baranov, the institute’s deputy director, as saying: “We would like to start it at the end of 2005 or the beginning of 2006.”

Volunteers, not all necessarily Russian, will take food and water in with them and only be allowed to leave the space module if they are seriously physically or psychologically ill.

Meanwhile, in another move to pave the way for extended space travel, a Russian cargo ship will blast off to the international space station Thursday carrying two dummies to investigate the long-term effects of radiation on astronauts.

One dummy will be attached to the outside of the space station and the other will send data back to Earth as it floats in open space, Interfax news agency reported.

The Progress cargo ship also will carry food, clothing, spare parts and other equipment to the space station. Docking is due to take place at 6:18 a.m. ET Saturday. To make room for the fresh Progress, a cargo ship currently docked to the station — and stuffed with trash for disposal — will be undocked from the station early Wednesday and sent to a fiery doom in Earth's atmosphere.