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18 Jun, 2009 22:07

Following Neil Armstrong’s giant leaps

A joint Russo-American rocket has lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida and is going to the moon. It is carrying probes to study the moon, some of which were built in Russia.

This scientific mission will search for water under the surface of the moon.

The Americans are planning an outpost on the moon, a pit-stop of sorts, including a refueling station and an eventual human settlement. This mission will look for a potential landing site and resources that would keep inhabitants going for years – without having to return to Earth.

The so-called Land device is the latest Russian gadget to travel to the moon, as part of NASA's Lunar Orbiter. It took 5 years and 2 million dollars to build. Its vital mission will be to find water.

The Russian space agency has outlined its own vision of a lunar city. Built entirely by machines, it would be used for the storage and refueling of spacecraft bound for planets far, far away.. But with Red Planet fever taking over the Russian space program, the country's lunar ambitions are looking far away, too. Although discovering water on the moon may change matters.

“Water in the polar regions of the moon may give us the experimental evidence of their being such proto-life,” explains Igor Mitrofanov, head of the Lend lab at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Science.

Forgotten since 1972

The physical exploration of the moon was actually begun by the USSR. In 1959 – ten years before the Apollo mission lifted Armstrong into history – a Soviet space probe first landed on the lunar surface.

But Soviet dreams to conquer the moon faded as the USSR folded its lunar program following the NASA mission. Nevertheless, the country's moon rovers brought back samples and unique images. Languishing in museums, these rovers, nonetheless, still provide food for thought for scientists itching for a Russian, too, to set foot on the moon one day.

After Armstrong’s flight to the moon back in 1969, NASA launched several more manned lunar missions – but none since 1972.

Now, a reconnaissance orbiter will speed there, with the aim of facilitating the return of humans to the moon.