MOSCOW (Oct 7, 1996) -- Russia opens a new chapter of the international space race next month when it launches a probe on the 100 million km, or 60 million mile, journey to Mars, officials said on Monday.
But its Mars-96, with two special drilling devices, will not land on the Red Planet until next October, three months after the U.S.-designed Mars Pathfinder is due to deploy a tiny six-wheeled rover and a weather station there.
Alexander Moisheyev, deputy chief designer at the Lavochkin scientific production space centre, told reporters the six-tonne probe would be launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on November 16.
An official with the Russian Space Agency said Moscow was determined to press ahead with its own mission despite lagging behind the Americans.
"We do not see a space race with United States to explore Mars," said the official, working on deep-space programmes.
"Russian space organisations and space centres... are working with NASA under an international programme 'Together to Mars' and several others. But we have our own Mars programme."
The mission, which follows recent scientific revelations of possible signs of life on a meteorite which originated on Mars, will be the first deep-space voyage for eight years for the cash-strapped Russian space sector.
The fight was originally scheduled for 1994 but was postponed due to cash shortages.
Moisheyev said the two drilling devices would penetrate the Martian surface to a depth of up to five metres (16 feet), beaming information back to the probe orbiting the planet.
He said 20 countries, including the United States, were helping to fund the mission, although 70 percent of all components were built in Russia.
The results of the venture would be used for a future manned flight to Mars. "I think such flights can be possible in the next 40 to 50 years. But unmanned probes can resolve all the tasks surrounding a planet's exploration," Moisheyev said.
He refused to be drawn on the precise cost of the mission. "We needed to freeze several projects to move budget money for the Mars-96 project," he said.
The former Soviet Union first started surveying Mars at the start of the 1960s and two probes took photographs of the planet in 1971. But devices launched in 1973 never reached their destination and the Mars programme was halted as too expensive.
Another probe -- Phobos -- was launched in 1988 but it never arrived.
"Russian research of Mars was less successful than the United States. But we had better results in Venus research," Moisheyev said.
He said long-term plans to explore Mars included launch of a 95-kg (210 lb) buggy in five years time. The six-wheeled vehicle, Marsokhod, would work on the surface of the icy planet for a year, transmitting data back to earth.
Original file name: .CNI - Russia.Mars Mission
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