Moscow has periodically announced ambitious plans for space exploration in recent years, but this is the first time a firm deadline has been set for a manned lunar mission.
Russia won the first round of the space race when it launched the first man to orbit the Earth, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin Jr, however, fulfilled John F Kennedy’s promise to reach the Moon by the end of the decade, landing there on July 20, 1969, with Nasa’s Apollo 11. The Soviet Union subsequently cancelled its lunar programmes.
Plans to send cosmonauts to the Moon could help revive Russia’s space programme after a troubled period. A series of satellites crashed last year and in January the Mars probe, Fobos Grunt, fell to Earth after a faulty launch two months earlier. Last week, Roskosmos suffered another humiliation after reports that the head of the agency, Vladimir Popovkin, had sustained head injuries after an alleged brawl at work.
Yury Karash, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, said that prestige would not be restored with a symbolic flight to the Moon. “Back in the 1960s the Soviet Union was competing head-to-head with the United States, ” he said.
“But it is hard to find a better way to hurt Russian prestige and emphasise Russian technological backwardness than by sending cosmonauts to the Moon around 2030, 60 years after Apollo.”
Mr Karash said resources would be better spent on funding a manned flight to Mars, which would stimulate science because of the demand for new technology to serve a 450-day round trip to the Red Planet.
The Soviet Union had two Moon programmes which it closed in the 1970s after the success of Apollo 11. The US knew about them, but their existence was not admitted publicly until 1990.
In the post-Soviet era, Russia has co-operated with other countries on Mir and the International Space Station (ISS). It currently shoulders the burden of shuttling supplies to the ISS in Soyuz capsules. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister and president-elect, wants to restore Russia’s space programme to its former glory.