Can Russia beat the U.S. to Mars?
The first manned expedition to Mars can take place in the 2040-2050s as part of international cooperation, claims the Russian Space Research Institute. However, while NASA is planning to perform its manned Mars mission in the 2030s, Russia is reducing investment in space projects.
Russian scientists have announced their desire to participate in an international partnership to perform a manned expedition to Mars within 30 years. On Tuesday, Dr. Igor Mitrofanov, head of the space gamma-spectroscopy laboratory of the Russian Space Research Institute, told TASS: 'A manned expedition to Mars is not an easy task. In my estimate, technically we'll be able to implement it approximately in the 2040-2050s. This Martian expedition will most probably be performed on the basis of consolidated international efforts.' The elements of a future Martian expedition can be tested during Russia's manned lunar programme, which is expected after 2030.
Russia has been cutting down its investment in space projects. In August, Roscosmos announced its plans to reduce Russia's crew at the International Space Station from three to two cosmonauts to boost the efficiency of the space programme. So, the announcement of the Martian plans is an encouraging sign that constraints on resources and budget haven't put Russia off the investment in space travel entirely, considers Inverse.
Meanwhile, the United States continues working on humans-to-Mars projects. In October 2015, NASA published its official plan for human exploration and colonization of Mars. According to this plan, human missions to Mars are scheduled for the 2030s. Besides, private companies like SpaceX and Boeing are already planning their own missions. Elon Musk's SpaceX is aiming to launch a manned Mars mission in 2024 and to arrive on the planet by 2025. However, there are many obstacles the company has to overcome.
As for Russia, the country is already cooperating with the European Space Agency (ESA) on the ExoMars mission to search for evidence of life on Mars. ESA seems to be an ideal partner for working with Roscosmos on a crewed Mars mission. But ExoMars has already faced delays and problems, including the Schiaparelli lander's crash in October.
Besides, at the beginning of 2016, Russia expressed its interest in conducting joint space missions with India including a manned flight to Mars. According to Consul-General of the Russian Federation for South India Sergey Kotov, the topic of a joint Indo-Russian space mission came up during a discussion with one of the top scientists in space research, who earlier headed Indian Space Research Organisation.