Mankind’s next objective in space exploration should be the establishment of a permanent international base on the Moon, in the “professional opinion” of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, instead of the near-Earth object (NEO) visit that is the stated goal of U.S. space policy.

Vladimir Popovkin, the Roscosmos head, told the Global Exploration Conference in Washington May 22 that the next big international exploration effort should build on the past 40-plus years of lunar exploration, and not repeat the sortie missions of the Apollo era.

“It’s a new Moon,” Popovkin said of his agency’s concept during a panel appearance with other space agency chiefs. A long-term permanent base could take advantage of the water-ice at the lunar poles, continue exploring the lunar surface, and prepare for the next leap into the Solar System, he says.

The concept, which is roughly the same one NASA pursued under President George W. Bush’s Constellation program of human exploration development, would require the consensus of the other spacefaring nations in the world, Popovkin said through an interpreter. He joined Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the European Space Agency, and Steve MacLean, president of the Canadian Space Agency, in urging wider cooperation with China in space exploration. NASA is forbidden by Congress from engaging with the Chinese space program.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was at the launch of the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) and did not attend the conference.

The first commercial launch intended to berth at the ISS drew congratulations from the agency heads at the conference, and from stand-ins for Bolden and the leaders of the Indian and Japanese space agencies. Popovkin later told reporters that his agency is shifting its station-research focus from life sciences work to engineering developments that can support human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

That work will center on a new multipurpose laboratory module Roscosmos hopes to launch to the space station in 2014, he says. Among the work that may be possible is an in-space repeat of the Mars 500 ground simulation of a human mission to Mars.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was a strong supporter of the Russian space program during his first term in office, and is expected to continue that support in his second term, Popovkin says. “There has been no impact in the Roscosmos standing whatsoever,” he says of the election results.