VOSTOCHNY COSMODROME, Russia - Russian President Vladimir Putin told astronauts on the International Space Station on Friday that Russia will launch the first manned flights from its soil in 2018 from a new launch pad he said will be used to explore the Moon and deep space.
Speaking by video link from the Vostochny Cosmodrome construction site in the Far East region of Amur, Putin said he hoped the facility will also be used by the United States and Europe - playing up cooperation on the 52nd anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering flight, which set off the Cold War space race and is celebrated as Space Exploration Day in Russia.
"I want to congratulate the crew on this holiday," Putin said. "These are not just any greetings, these are greetings from the construction site of our future."
Russia wants the launch site near the Chinese border, where it hopes to exploit a new generation of rockets carrying heavier payloads, to rival its current site in Kazakhstan, the lease of which has been in contention since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.