Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Russia To US: Let's Go To The Moon

According to Russian media last week, Vladimir Popovkin, the head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, is proposing that the United States and European Union join forces to build human colonies on the Moon.  Popovkin's vision would include a series of outposts in lunar orbit, along with human exploration of the Moon's surface and using deposits of ice at the lunar poles as a source of water.  Russia also has two unmanned missions of their own on the drawing board, set to fly before 2020.

Popovkin's comments are surprising for two reasons; first is that NASA seemed to be unaware of his desire to team up on a lunar mission.  “We believe Popovkin may be referring to the work of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) and its Global Exploration Roadmap,” NASA spokesman J.D. Harrington told SPACE.com in response to an inquiry about Popovkin's suggestion.  NASA went on to explain that the ISECG was more of a framework for ideas rather than setting down plans for man's conquest of the Moon.  The other reason why Popovkin's comments are so surprising is that just a few weeks ago Popovkin was all but accusing the United States of sabotaging Russia's Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars, which ended on January 15th with an inglorious crash into the Pacific Ocean.  According to Popovkin, the probe – which was suppose to land on the Martian moon Phobos, grab a sample of soil and return it to Earth – was vulnerable to “foreign influences”, building on speculation in some Russian media that Phobos-Grunt was blasted by a radio signal from an American radar installation either in Alaska or the Pacific (take your pick) that rendered it inoperative.  You would wonder then why Popovkin would want to team up with the country that he thinks ruined Roscosmos' most high-profile exploration mission since the end of the Soviet Union.

In other space news, another Russian scientist is out with a  bold claim of his own – that he has detected possible signs of life on Venus.  The second planet from the sun has long been ruled out of the search for life in the solar system because of surface temperatures that are hot enough to melt lead.  But now Leonid Ksanfomaliti of the Space Research Institute at Russia's Academy of Sciences contends that he has seen evidence of what he thinks could be life by reexamining a set of 30-year old photographs from a Soviet space probe that survived the hellish conditions on the surface of Venus long enough to snap a few photographs.   Ksanfomaliti identified structures within the photographs that resembled a disc, a black flap and even a scorpion.

“Let's boldly suggest that the objects' morphological features would allow us to say that they are living," Ksanfomaliti wrote in a scientific journal.  Lacking any other proof, or evidence of life from other probes that have studied Venus, NASA analysts suggest the items are just data artifacts in the images beamed back from Venus combined with an active imagination.
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