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Despite the numerous technical and medical-biological problems it would face,
Despite the numerous technical and medical-biological problems it would face, a manned mission to Mars is being spoken about with more and more certainty.

Yet it is unclear why we should take such great risks to land astronauts on the Red Planet. Nor do we know whether the huge costs of such an expedition would ever be recouped.

Yury Semyonov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and former General Designer at the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, believes that the expedition to Mars is of great importance for this country. It is just such ambitious projects, he argues, that keep the national space program afloat. Over 200 companies, employing tens of thousands of highly skilled workers, currently collaborate on manned space missions; their involvement in a Mars program would help solve many of the social problems facing Russian industry, and lend much-needed stimulation to the country's flagging hi-tech sector.

Russia is currently facing a flight of expertise, as young scientists and technicians leave to seek opportunities abroad. Only ambitious scientific programs could provide enough opportunities to halt the brain drain and attract new talent. Even so, it is still unclear whether we should send astronauts to Mars.

From 1969 to 1972, the Apollo program landed 12 American astronauts on the Moon. It soon became clear, however, that such flights, though politically impressive, were scientifically useless. The Apollo program cost $125 billion - 10 times the budget of the current U.S. space program.

Soviet Cosmonaut, professor and spacecraft designer Konstantin Feoktistov said that although the Apollo program was a magnificent engineering endeavor, unmanned probes could deliver lunar rock to Earth without endangering astronauts' lives, making them both cheaper and more effective.

Many experts are now claiming that the International Space Station is nothing but "a $100-billion blunder". It would be much better, they say, to launch specialized manned spacecraft for tackling specific applied and scientific objectives, rather than building a general-purpose space station.

U.S. experts estimate the cost of a manned mission to Mars at $500 billion. Russia believes it can place cosmonauts on the planet's surface in the next 12 years for just $14 billion, a sum roughly equivalent to 10 national space programs. However, this would entail a doubling of federal space spending and the launch of several unmanned reconnaissance probes to explore Mars in greater detail.

Nikolai Anfimov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Director General of the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash), believes the total cost of the manned Mars mission would run to over $100 billion.

The 2006-2015 federal space program stipulates only one project, called Phobos Ground, for exploring Mars. Under the project, an automatic probe will deliver samples of Phobos rock, widely believed to contain the Solar System's primeval substance, to the Earth. Prior to the manned mission, several large roving vehicles will have to be landed on Mars to explores the surface and choose the best landing sites.

The objective of most planetary research is to explain the creation and evolution of the Solar System's celestial bodies - its planets, attendant moons, comets and asteroids. Comparative planetology is also the only way we have to study the Earth's evolution, and thus to predict its future. The cold truth is that for this kind of work inter-planetary unmanned probes are not only cheaper than manned spacecraft, but can study just about any part of the Solar System.

Professor Lev Zelyony, Director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that although automatic probes have made more scientific discoveries than manned missions, astronauts will eventually land on Mars. Speaking to RIA Novosti, Professor Zelyony said that no matter how pointless manned missions may be, the sensations of astronauts walking on alien planets are absolutely priceless. Planetary research and the mission to Mars are, he says, key tasks of mankind's future.

Since the birth of the Solar system, the Earth and other planets have repeatedly suffered asteroid impacts and other catastrophes from outer space; future disasters could wipe out humankind. To ensure the survival of the Human race, we must find another planet that could eventually be settled. This is an important incentive for going to Mars.

Multilateral space programs pooling the efforts of many countries are essential. We must not repeat the mistake of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who once turned down John F. Kennedy's proposal to send joint space crews to the Moon.

Yury Zaitsev is an academic adviser with the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences.

The appeal of Mars (Part One)

The appeal of Mars (Part Two)

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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