MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia and the United States, the world’s great space powers, celebrated the eve of the first satellite launch 50 years ago with a pact to use Russian technology on NASA missions to seek water on the moon and Mars.
NASA administrator Michael Griffin signed the cooperation deal with his Russian counterpart at a ceremony on Wednesday at the U.S. embassy residence in Moscow attended by cosmonauts and astronauts and featuring a recorded greeting from space.
Both sides avoided mention of superpower rivalry during the Cold War and recent clashes over U.S. “Star Wars”-style missile defense plans to concentrate on what they had achieved together, first in the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission of 1975 and later with the International Space Station.
“What better example to set for the citizens of our countries and the world about what is possible if we work together in a spirit of cooperation, partnership and friendship?” NASA flight engineer Clayton Anderson said in a video message sent from the International Space Station.
Wednesday’s event, whose guest list included the world’s first ever man to walk in space, Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, was held on the eve of the October 4, 1957 launch of Russia’s Sputnik satellite.
Its successful blasting into orbit by the Soviet Union shocked the Americans, who had been unsuccessful with their own attempts, and led to a new Cold War space race.
Wednesday’s agreement, the product of a different era, will see NASA using Russian scientific instruments on missions to detect the presence of hydrogen — a predictor of water — on the Moon and later on Mars.
“I hope we will continue cooperation ... and that in the future Russian and American scientists will continue to work together on joint projects which will allow us to explore the moon and Mars successfully,” Russian Federal Space Agency (RosKosmos) head Anatoly Perminov told the reception.
NASA engineers want to use their Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission to the moon in October 2008 to check what resources are there to support a permanent manned station planned for the following decade.
“The (Russian) Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) instrument allows us to be able to locate very specific sites where water may exist,” NASA project scientist Gordon Chin told reporters.
Just over a year later, NASA will dispatch the Mars Science Laboratory, an unmanned mission which will land on the Red Planet in 2010 and spend two years analyzing its surface. The same Russian technology will be used on that mission to hunt for signs of water.