The Russians are serious about the moon and think the U.S. should be too. Their incentive can be summed up with one word: China.
Quite simply, China wants to own the moon.
The Russian Federation and its space agency Roscosmos finds itself in the curious position of trying to prod America—the leader in space for four decades—to re-enter manned space exploration in a big way and lock down the nearby planets during the remainder of the 21st Century.
According to the Ria Novosti news agency, during a recent interview with Vesti FM radio station Vladimir Popovkin, the head of Roscosmos revealed Russia's earnest talks with NASA and the European Space Agency concerning the possibility of jointly building a permanent moon base.
America should be interested as its long term national security is at risk if it fails to take action soon.
The reinvigorated drive to reach Luna is being fueled by a new space race between Russia and China. America is, for all intents and purposes, cooling its space heels on the sidelines.
But Russia wants to win this new space race and believes it can ward off the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) by establishing a strategic space alliance with America and certain space savvy European nations. The stakes are huge and the race is being fueled by three major factors that have little to do with science and prestige this go around: money, politics, and military superiority.
To the victors go the spoils
The primary goal of the PRC's bid to establish bases on the moon is a military one. If China can take the ultimate high ground—real estate in lunar orbit—then it mutes all other military forces on Earth. The leaders of the PRC are well aware of this and the moon has become an integral facet of their long-range strategic planning.
While the Americans (except for certain faction within the Pentagon, the United State's Air Forces Space Command, and the Defense Intelligence Agency) seem relatively myopic to China's ambitions, the Russians are not blind to it. Moscow is very concerned about the PRC and the balance of international power should China gain a solid foothold on the moon and begin building defensible lunar bases.
During the past several years the Russians have approached the U.S. with suggestions to launch joint space projects for the benefit of both countries. The last suggestion the Russians had was a remarkable plan to build nuclear powered rockets in Earth orbit and open up Mars. Washington, in its infinite wisdom, shot the idea down.
Moon a treasure trove of assets
Almost eclipsing the strategic military advantage the moon offers is the fact that the Earth's natural satellite has a treasure trove of rare earths and other minerals in abundance—including Titanium and Helium-3.
Helium-3 (He-3) cannot be mined on Earth. The process to make it is very arduous and expensive. The amount of He-3 on the moon will be worth trillions in the coming decades as it will be the fuel that powers fusion reactors. China has its collective eye on He-3 as well. The other minerals on the moon can also be mined or harvested and are also worth many trillions of dollars.
Orbiting political power
Finally, the third major prize attained with bases and colonies on the moon is increased political power. An expanding China hungers for more wealth, expanded markets and bigger political clout. The moon goes a long way towards satisfying those appetites.
The Russians are playing all this close to their vests. For now they are simply in selling mode and hoping they can convince their American and European counterparts to buy into their grand vision.
"We don't want man to just step on the moon," Popovkin Vesti. "Today, we know enough about it, we know that there is water in its polar areas…we are now discussing how to begin [the moon's] exploration with NASA and the European Space Agency."
If Russia can successfully sell its colonization plan they can breathe a little easier. The Russian bear—with an American eagle by its side—won't have to struggle so much to keep the ambitious Red Dragon from reaching the moon first.