Russia should set up a permanent moon base as a launch-pad for space exploration, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said.

"Russian astronauts learned how to function in conditions of zero gravity, work in orbit and carry out necessary experiments there," Rogozin, who is in charge of industry, defense and the space sector, told state-run Vesti-FM radio today. "Why not set up a large base on the moon as a launch-pad for further leaps in science?" The Russian government is planning to spend 650 billion rubles ($20.5 billion) between 2012 and 2015 to develop the country's space program. Russia is talking to NASA and the European Space Agency about participating in two Mars expeditions in 2016 and 2018, the Russian space agency chief, Vladimir Popovkin, said in November.

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Over the next decade, Russia will focus on the moon, with a manned mission planned for 2020-2025, Popovkin said. A manned Mars expedition may be possible after 2030, he added.

Newt Gingrich, who lost his bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. president this year, had promised to set up a permament moon base by the end of his second term if elected to the White House.