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Russia Announces New $50 Billion Space Program

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Russia has announced a new $50 billion space programme.

In marking the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic first trip to space by a human in 1961, president Vladimir Putin said that Russia would reinforce its legacy by funding new missions to explore our solar system.

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Speaking at a ceremony from a new cosmodrome, which Russia is building in the far east of the country, Putin said:

"Developing our potential in space will be one of the priorities of state policy," he said.

"We need to preserve what we have achieved in manned space flight but also to catch up in these other areas [including unmanned space missions."

Despite the glory days of Gagarin's flight being firmly in the past, Russia still has an important role in space.

Many of its launches now involve sending astronauts to the International Space Station, for countries including the USA.

But Russia still launches all of its astronauts from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan - the same place from where Gagarin launched 52 years ago, and its space program has suffered the similar constraints to those felt by Nasa.

Putin said that from 2013 to 2020 Russia would spend at least $50 billion (1.6 trillion roubles) on space, and did not rule out the creation of a new Space Ministry.

The new launchpad will be operational by 2015, with the first manned launches in 2018.

It will be named the Tsiolkovsky cosmodrome, in honour of the Russian scientist who pioneered rocket design in the early days of its space program.

And Russia also has its sights set on the Moon - with the potential for a space station on our natural satellite to host launches to Mars by 2030.

"The moon is a great launch pad, it's basically a big space object on which a whole load of things could be accommodated. Not using it would be sinful," said the head of Russia's space agency Vladimir Popovkin.

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Putin also engaged in a live chat with the crew of the International Space Station.

Canadian astronaut and ISS Commander Chris Hadfield said that he hoped Russia's program would lead to greater international cooperation in space, saying exploration was "about the future of mankind" not nation states.

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