Putin vows to send a Russian spaceship to Mars by next year

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Russia plans to launch a mission to Mars next year, President Vladimir Putin has said, as SpaceX boss Elon Musk and NASA also gear up for the new space race.

“We are planning unmanned and later manned launches — into deep space, as part of a lunar program and for Mars exploration,” said Putin, according to the report from RT.

“The closest mission is very soon, we are planning to launch a mission to Mars in 2019,” the Russian leader added.

Putin spoke about the country’s plans in a new documentary, according to the local news outlet, which U.S. intelligence agencies have described as a “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”

RT said that the Mars spaceship will not carry any crew. As for the lunar program, that will target the moon’s poles, because there are reasons to expect water there, Putin said.

Putin’s comments come before a presidential election on Sunday that he is widely expected to win, giving him a fourth term. Kremlin critics are boycotting the election, and opposition activist Alexei Navalny has been barred from running due to a criminal conviction that he calls politically motivated.

The Russian leader’s remarks follow headline-making Mars comments from Elon Musk on Sunday. The California-based entrepreneur behind SpaceX and Tesla TSLA, -4.45% said the first stage of SpaceX’s mission to Mars could happen as soon as next year.

The new documentary, titled “Putin,” also reportedly features the Russian president talking about how he slept with a gun while living in St. Petersburg in the 1990s.

“I stayed at my dacha with a pump shotgun to sleep, it’s true, but the times were like that,” Putin said, according to a published report.

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