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Bush's space plan draws Russia's eye

MOSCOW -- President Bush's plan for missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond excited Russian space officials and designers, who voiced hopes yesterday for winning a lucrative share in the US program and boosting the sagging status of their own.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has already sent the Russian Aerospace Agency its proposals concerning cooperation in moon and Mars missions, said deputy chief Nikolai Moiseyev, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. He did not give details of the US proposals but said Russia has plentiful know-how to share.

Bush's plan could be a chance for the beleaguered Russian space program to get much-needed cash and to revive its prestige. The Soviet Union sent the first satellite and first man into space, but the Russian program fell on hard times after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The program gained new prominence when, after the suspension of the space shuttle program following the Columbia disaster, Russian Soyuz craft became the only way to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Severe funding problems persist, however.

Despite the money shortage, its scientists have done a lot of new research on interplanetary missions, said space agency spokesman Vyacheslav Mikhailichenko.

"Even though our space engineers lacked money to build new hardware, they have done a lot of prospective design work," Mikhailichenko said. "We have preserved and developed our scientific potential."

Like other Russian space officials, Mikhailichenko held out hope that the United States will tap Russian know-how while building future spacecraft. "It would be unfeasible to do such work alone," he said.

The European Union also hoped Bush's space initiative would be open to international participation.

"One thing is clear: Europe would be a solid, credible, and respected partner," said Philippe Busquin, the EU's research commissioner. "The exploration of space is a domain that would need the strong, international scientific cooperation."

Mikhailichenko said Russia's giant Energiya booster rocket, with a payload of about 110 tons, could be useful for lunar and interplanetary missions. The Energiya program has been dormant in recent years due to the money crunch and the lack of suitable missions. Mikhailichenko said Energiya facilities have been preserved at Baikonur, the Central Asian launchpad used by Russia for manned space flights.

Meanwhile, Russian space designers said they could quickly develop spacecraft for both lunar and Martian missions if they have money.

Roald Kremnev, a deputy head of NPO Lavochkin company that built the Soviet Lunokhod rover that traipsed across the moon in 1970, said it could build its successor in two or three years for $21 million, ITAR-Tass reported.

Kremnev said that his company could make spacecraft capable of flying unmanned missions to the moon, including robots capable of building temporary housing there.

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