When Space Daily reported on Friday that Russia is planning to land cosmonauts on the moon by 2030, the question arose about how serious the announcement was. Reading the story closely, the inevitable answer has to be that they are not that serious at all. The moon landing proposal came from the Federal Space Agency Roscosmos and not from President Vladimir Putin. The Russian moon landing project has not been authorized, not to mention funded.
Russia is in the midst of a serious recession, brought on by the collapse in oil prices as well as epic mismanagement of the Russian economy by Putin. The problem has been exacerbated by Putin’s imperialist adventures in the Ukraine and the endemic corruption in Russian society. In short, while Russia has the technical expertise to pull off a moon landing, it likely does not have the available resources or the management acumen.
So why even announce a moon landing goal if no government commitment has been made to accomplish it? The answer may be in the report by the Moscow Times that Russian support for their space program is quite high, with a plurality of 47 percent supporting extending it. 40 percent are satisfied with the current extent of the Russian space program. Eight percent would like to see it cut back. This poll result suggests that there would be support for a Russian moon effort if it took place.
The American victory in the 1960s moon race still sticks in the craw of many Russians. Russia has started the 1960s basking in the glow of multiple space triumphs, with the first satellite, the first probe to the moon, and the first man in space. The decade ended with Americans victorious on the lunar surface, much to the humiliation of the Russians. The defeat in the race to the moon psychologically scarred the Russians and was a contributing factor to the end of the Cold War as they contemplated the technological superiority of the United States.
The Russians would certainly like to pay America back with its own moon landing while NASA continues to be mired in a lack of funding, direction, and leadership. President Obama’s abandonment of the moon presents an opportunity for other nations to show the United States up. But Russia may not have the wherewithal to take advantage of that opportunity.