Russia is planning to build a nuclear-powered spacecraft for a manned mission to Mars.
According to news agency RiaNovosti, Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency. told a government commission that the plan was crucial if was crucial if Russia wanted to maintain a competitive edge in the space race.
The basic design could be ready by 2012. A final version would take another nine years, and would cost around $580 million to build, said Perminov. It would be based around a megawatt-class nuclear reactor - far more powerful than the small nuclear reactors that power some Russian military satellites.
"The project is aimed at implementing large-scale space exploration programs, including a manned mission to Mars, interplanetary travel, the creation and operation of planetary outposts," Perminov said. But he stopped short of proposing a permanent base on Mars.
President Dmitry Medvedev backed the project, and urged the government to find the funds.
If the project goes ahead, it would be a huge boost for the Russian space program. Russia is currently using 40 year old Soyuz booster rockets, and plans for a replacement are well behind schedule.