US mustn't give up on space or China will move in, says marathon cosmonaut

Sergei Krikalev believes in a starry future

The manned exploration of space is one of the defining achievements of humanity and should not be abandoned in favour of less expensive robotic missions after the Nasa Shuttle's last flight, the man who has spent the most time in space said yesterday.

The Russian former cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev said that suggestions that the age of manned space exploration should end – with the demise of the Shuttle programme, and US President Barack Obama proposing a freeze on Nasa's budget until 2016 – are misguided because robots and space probes will continue to be poor substitutes for human space explorers for many years to come.

Mr Krikalev, who holds the record for the most amount of time spent in space – a total of 803 days, 9 hours and 39 minutes – called for future manned missions to the Moon and even Mars, saying that they would open up a new age of human exploration akin to the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492.

"Columbus had a business plan to bring back spices from India, but it changed after he discovered America," Mr Krikalev told The Independent, speaking 50 years after Yuri Gagarin's pioneering Earth orbit in 1961. "If you ask me does it make any sense to go to the Moon and beyond, sure it does. I'm sure there will be benefits from going beyond our habitable area to learn and study space.

"The end of the Apollo programme did not mean the end of human space flight. The same is true with Shuttle. The end of Shuttle does not mean the end of human space flight. It's the end of one programme, but another programme will take its place."

A return manned mission to the Moon could be organised in less than 10 years if there was a political will on behalf of the major space nations, Mr Krikalev said. If America or Russia does not take a lead, it could be done by China which has become a serious player in space since launching its own manned rockets.

Some scientists have argued that manned space flight is an expensive luxury and that intelligent probes and robots could explore the Solar System far more efficiently at a fraction of the cost. One of President Obama's first decisions on coming to office was to abandon plans for the United States to return astronauts to the Moon and there are no definite plans to replace the Shuttle with another re-useable manned vehicle.

Mr Krikalev, who attended the unveiling of a Gagarin statue outside the British Council offices in London yesterday, said that intelligent space probes and robotic explorers will never be as good as humans for many years to come and that to stop or curtail manned missions now would be a set back for space exploration.

"I would argue with the statement that sending people into space is more expensive than sending robots. Sending robots can be very expensive and what is really important is the ratio between expense and result. If you have zero result, it doesn't matter how much you spend," Mr Krikalev said.

"A good example is the Hubble space telescope. Even though it cost billions of dollars, if people had not gone to fix it when they realised it was broke, the result would have been close to zero. The best combination is humans and robotics."

Mr Krikalev, who now heads the Gagarin cosmonaut training centre at Star City near Moscow, was once called "the last citizen of the Soviet Union" when in 1991 and 1992 he spent 311 days on board the Mir space station as part of an extended mission that coincided with the breakup of the former USSR.

"It was a radical change, but we didn't feel it was the dissolution of the country. Russia has been Russia for many centuries. I departed from Russia and I went back to Russia," he said.

"I know about all these stories that ground control forgot about us in space and could not return us, but this was not true."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick