Even as NASA's unmanned rover Spirit, stationed on Mars, prepares to explore the planet, Russia is making plans to send a manned mission to the Red Planet in 2014 with up to six cosmonauts.
"Technically the first human flight to Mars would be possible in 2014," Leonid Gorshkov, a designer of Russian Space Corporation 'Energiya', was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS.
The Russian plans have come into the open amidst reports that US President George W Bush is all set to announce an ambitious plan to use the moon as a launch pad for farther-reaching missions to Mars and elsewhere at a cost of $150 billion.
In contrast, $15 billion would suffice for Russia's plans, Gorshkov said.
The 70-tonne ship being developed by Energiya, which would resemble the Zvezda module of International Space Station, would be assembled in space after with the parts being taken there by Proton rockets.
The proposed Russian interplanetary space ship will be equipped with electro-jets for propulsion with the help of solar energy, successfully tested on the orbital station Mir.
The manned mission to Mars would last for one-and-half to two years. During the maiden flight, only a module will land on the Red Planet's surface while the cosmonauts will orbit the Red Planet.
After the accomplishment of the mission, the ship will remain in orbit above Earth for future missions. In the meantime, it could be used as a lab, Gorshkov said.
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