MOSCOW, April 8 (UPI) -- Missions to land spacecraft on worlds in the solar system will be the backbone of Russia's space research efforts in coming years, a prominent scientist says.
"We've found our direction, our niche," Lev Zelyony, director of the Institute of Space Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said in Moscow Monday.
The Soviet Union successfully landed unmanned probes on celestial bodies, including two moon rovers as well as a number of probes to Venus, but Russia's space program was largely mothballed after the Soviet Union's collapse.
It is now being gradually redeveloped on a smaller scale, Zelyony said.
Russia intends to send five unmanned probes to the moon between 2015 and 2022 to retrieve samples of lunar soil as part of a continuation of Soviet-era lunar missions, he said.
In addition, Russia's Federal Space Agency will cooperate with the European Space Agency to jointly develop two unmanned Mars probes, ESA officials said.
The probes, set to launch in 2016 and 2018, would study the planet's atmosphere and map out traces of water, Rene Pischel, head of ESA's mission in Moscow, said in a news conference along with Zelyony.