“It is worth recalling that our automatic stations in the '50s and '70s were first in reaching the moon, Mars and Venus. These achievements are forever written into the history of space research,” Putin said.
“Now Russia is returning to researching the planets of the the solar system.”
The late Soviet cosmonaut Gagarin became the first human in space on April 12, 1961, orbiting Earth in a 108-minute flight that stunned the world and raised the stakes in the US-Soviet space race.
Half a century later, Russia is set to be the only country to take crews to space after Nasa mothballs its shuttle programme later this year.
A Russian Soyuz craft bearing Gagarin's portrait docked with the International Space Station early on Thursday (late on Wednesday GMT), delivering two Russians and an American astronaut to the orbital outpost.
Russian space spending is far smaller than that of Nasa, whose proposed budget for fiscal 2011 is $18.7 billion, but it has increased in recent years. Business daily Kommersant reported that Russia's 2007 space budget was $1.4 billion.
But Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Klepach predicted Russia would face a space spending squeeze in 2015-2016 unless it makes long-term budget plans, through 2025, that would include moon research and other programmes.
The country's space programme has also suffered recent setbacks including the delay last month of a Soyuz launch to the International Space Station and two failed satellite launches this year.
Scientists at the meeting were divided over the future direction of the space programme and whether it should set its sights on the moon or Mars.
Lev Zelyony, director of Russia's Space Research Institute, said it should first focus on the moon, predicting a new space race because of the recent discovery of water there.
“Where there are resources, there is always competition,” said Zelyony, who said two moon explorations are planned in 2013 but no money had yet been assigned for the missions.
Vitaly Lopota, head of spacecraft manufacturer Energiya, said the United States was looking to Mars and Russia should do the same.
“If we make the moon the priority we will lose in the long term,” he said.