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Russian reaction on US plans for Mars
Russia reacted coolly on Thursday to plans by its old space rival the United States to send astronauts to the moon and eventually to Mars, saying the announcement changed nothing for its space program. But Europeans, relative newcomers to space, hailed President Bush's speech on Wednesday in which he invited other nations to join an ambitious space exploration drive with the promise that it would be "a journey, not a race." A Russian space agency spokesman said Bush's announcement had not changed Moscow's space plans and would not affect the 16-nation International Space Station (ISS) which depends on Russian rockets for its link to earth. "They are their space plans -- they don't affect us in any way," Rosaviakosmos spokesman Vyacheslav Mikhailichenko said. "We are not intending to change our plans or shorten the (ISS) program." Russian rockets have kept the space station alive since Washington grounded its shuttle fleet after the Columbia disintegrated on re-entry last February, killing seven astronauts. Bush said the remaining shuttles would be retired once the station was completed in 2010. Outlining his plans, which need the backing of Congress, Bush said he wanted to put humans back on the moon as early as 2015 and send astronauts to Mars. Critics called it an election-year initiative that could trigger a costly new military space race. REALISTIC PLANS But Mikhailichenko dismissed any suggestion of a return to the Cold War contest which Soviet Union led until the United States put men on the moon in 1969. He said the Russian space program, short of cash since the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, would continue its own research and this would form the basis for future missions. "Such plans in Russia are still being formulated. Realistic plans will come to light by the end of this year or the beginning of next year," he said without giving details. Interfax news agency reported on Thursday that Russian space officials would discuss the future of the ISS with their U.S. counterparts in Washington on February 12. In contrast with Russia's unenthusiastic response, the European Space Agency (ESA) welcomed Bush's speech, saying it had mapped out the next phase of space exploration. "The news is not the moon and Mars, the news is that President Bush has set a calendar and has described what will happen after the (space) station," Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain told a news conference. "It's good news because it shows interest in space is growing throughout the world." ESA is due to meet officials from the U.S. space agency NASA in March to discuss how to work together in the next phase of space exploration, which will focus on Mars. Dordain said ESA would press on with its own exploration of the red planet, despite fears that its Beagle-2 Mars probe had crash-landed on December 25 and was lost. The Mars Express orbiter's seven other instruments had worked perfectly for two years and "are going to produce a wonderful scientific harvest," he added.
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