"Time not right" for Russia to launch Mars mission: official
MOSCOW (AFP) Jan 21, 2004
Russia possesses the technology and skills to launch a manned mission to Mars but "the time is not right" for such a venture, a senior government official said Wednesday, dousing speculation that Russia might seek to match US plans to explore space.

"We have all the technology and scientific skills needed (for a flight to Mars), but from the rational point of view the time is not right for such a programme," Deputy Prime Minister Boris Alyoshin told the Interfax news agency.

"We too have big ambitions, but currently we are not planning concrete moves for the conquest of Mars," he said, describing as "mainly electorally motivated" a speech last week by US President George W. Bush unveiling plans to return to the Moon and maybe follow through to Mars.

Bush said on January 14 that his administraton was planning a federal space programme in which Moon and Mars projects might be concluded.

Several Russian space officials reacted by asserting that Russia too had the know-how to relaunch its space explorations programmes.

Alyoshin said however that Russia might take part in the US-initiated programme.

"This program could be of interest to us, but we need to receive specific proposals first. So far, we have neither seen nor discussed such proposals with the US," he said .

During the Cold War, Washington and Moscow competed fiercely in space exploration, and many Russians are still intensely proud of Soviet achievements in that field.

The Soviet Union was the first country to send a man into space, putting Yury Gagarin into orbit in April 1961, while the United States achieved the first moon landing, setting Neil Armstrong and two colleagues on the earth's satellite in July 1969.

Since then, both capitals have considerably scaled back their space programmes.