Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday unveiled a new $50 billion drive for Russia to preserve its status as a top space power, including the construction of a brand new cosmodrome from where humans will fly to space by 2018.
Fifty-two years to the day since Yuri Gagarin became the Soviet Union's greatest hero by making the first human flight into space, Putin inspected the new Vostochny (Eastern) cosmodrome Russia is building in the Amur region of the Far East.
Putin said in a live linkup with the multinational crew of the International Space Sation (ISS) that Russia hoped to see the first launches from Vostochny in 2015 followed by manned launches in 2018.
"It's going to be a great launch pad. It took a long time to choose but now work is fully underway," said Putin in comments broadcast on state television, adding that Vostochny would be fully operational by 2020.
Russia still carries out all manned launches from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the same place where Gagarin made his historic flight, but this has been shadowed in recent years by disputes with the Kazakh authorities over lease terms.