Vladimir Putin has revealed plans to explore Mars as early as next year as part of an ambitious new lunar exploration programme.

The Russian President hopes to send an unmanned mission to the red planet in 2019 ahead of manned missions at a later date. That is according to report Andrey Kondrashov, who interviewed Putin for an upcoming television documentary, RT reports.

According to RT, the Russian President said:

“We are planning unmanned and later manned launches – into deep space, as part of a lunar program and for Mars exploration.”

“The closest mission is very soon, we are planning to launch a mission to Mars in 2019.”

This will be Russia’s first attempt to reach Mars since 2011. On that occasion, the Phobos-Grunt probe, set to collect samples from one of Mars’ moons, failed to launch.

As part of the programme, Russia also plans to land at the moon’s southern pole next year. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, will use the mission to test new technology. Russia plans to establish a permanent lunar base on the moon in 2023.

Putin reportedly said:

Out specialists will try landing near the poles because there are reasons to expect water there.

There is research to be done there, and from that, research of other planets and outer space can be undertaken.

Why it matters:

Russia’s desire to reach the red planet adds more competition in the race to reach Mars.

Elon Musk’s space exploration company SpaceX also plans to launch manned missions to Mars in the near future. Musk recently stated that testing is set to begin next year.

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Likewise, Nasa recently revealed a £1.5 billion probe that the space agency hopes will discover life on Mars when it launches in 2020.

This increased competition can only be a good thing for the future of space exploration.

Background:

The report comes just days before Russia takes to the polls for the Russian presidential election.

Putin will be running for re-election against the Communist Party’s Pavel Grudinin and LDPR’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The space programme announcement has provided some positive press coverage for Putin following the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.