Aiming to create the first base on the surface of the moon, Russia has started building a spacecraft for manned lunar missions with the first test scheduled for 2015, the project developer said.
"Work has already started. The unmanned tests are scheduled in 2015, the first manned mission is planned in 2018," Xinhua quoted Gennady Raikunov, head of the Central Research Institute of Machine Building, as saying.
The spaceships would be designed to land on and lift off from the moon, work as space tug-boats as well as service modules for other space vehicles, he said.
"(Russian federal space agency) Roscosmos has planned the creation of a new manned transportation system to conduct manned flights to the moon and servicing the vehicles in space," Raikunov said.
The official also linked the lunar programme to the fate of the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS). Whether Russia will continue the ISS work after 2020 depends on the progress of the lunar programme, he said.
"It is necessary to determine the main direction of manned cosmonautics development. Current strategy envisages focusing on the manned flights to the moon, including the creation of a base on its surface," he said.
Victor Khartov, head of Russia's Lavochkin Scientific and Production Corp., said the country must "return to the moon in 2015 in a Soviet style, to prove everyone and ourselves that we remember all the Soviet Union could do".
The Russian space strategy until 2030 presented by Roscosmos regards the moon missions as a step towards a manned flight to Mars.