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Russia's passive aggressive reaction to SpaceX can mask a deeper truth

  With its nose cone open, Dragon reveals its docking mechanism as it approaches the station's Harmony module.
Enlarge / With its nose cone open, Dragon reveals its docking mechanism as it approaches the station's Harmony module.


One of the big questions about the first launch of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft was how the Russians would react. They have had a great swing in the international space station partnership by controlling access to the groundbreaking laboratory since 201

1 retirement of NASA's space shuttle. So far, the Russian response has been one of throwing small bit shadows here and there, but does not attempt to be obvious to it.

On Sunday, when SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft docked with the International Space Station, the Russian space association set up cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko in the Russian segment of the station. This was, Roscosmos said, so that Kononenko could take emergency if the dragon became uncontrollable and crashed into the space station.

After successful docking, Roscosmos tweeted a Russian language to NASA, but stressed the fact "air safety must be over accusation." An hour later, it published a rare tweet in English and sent "its sincere compliments to NASA colleagues" but without any emphasis on vehicle safety. Neither tweet mentioned SpaceX. (Later, Roscosmos said that NASA ordered the ship and therefore deserved congratulations.)

On Monday, the Russian space company again discussed images of Kononenko, NASA's Anne McClain and Canadian David Saint-Jacques in their protective masks before entering the dragon. (This was a security measure with the new vehicle that visited.) It wanted readers to know that the mission had made a different story. "For the first time in the history of the station, the crew worked in Russian-made IPK gas masks," the tweet declared .

Finally, Russian sources on Tuesday told Sputnik and others media about an unusual smell at the station and that "a high concentration" of isopropyl alcohol was found to circulate in the air aboard the international space station after the arrival of the dragon. In fact, the concentrations were quite low and disappeared after astronauts at the station used normal procedures to cycle the air.


So what happens here with this passive aggressive reaction? Someone who would probably know is Vadim Lukashevich, a Russian-based space expert. He was fired from a space tank in Skolkovo in 2015 after writing articles opposite the transformation of Roscosmos from a government agency to a state company. On Monday he gave an interview to Russian television station Moscow 24, which was published on YouTube and translated into Ars by Robinson Mitchell.

Lukashevich says there are good reasons why the Russians feel threatened. (In the quotation below, he referred to Roscosmos leader Dmitry Rogozin, who was sanctioned by the US government in 2014 and then . NASA needed a trampoline to get to space.)

With this launch if it was commissioned by NASA, this private company SpaceX made Roscosmos invalid. They've shown Roscosmos, who's who. Everyone remembers Rogozin's remarks about trampolines and such, so it's actually not just anger, it's a constant big headache for Roscosmos. First, the congratulation message was late. Second, Roscosmos sent out two congratulated tweets, one in English and another completely different text in Russian. So, of course, this is a sign of anger, it's the reaction of an unreliable leader lying behind, so it was really strange that they (Roscosmos) reacted at all. Remember Roscosmos never actually approved for docking. They expressed a number of technical concerns, perhaps even for some reason, but we saw that the docking was simply brilliant when it took place. So, yes it was a reaction from someone back.

Later, Lukashevich was asked how the Dragon spacecraft compared to the Russian Soyuz, which has transported all astronauts to the station since 2011.

See if we compare the ships at a technological level, our Soyuz is in principle unable to Compete with SpaceX's Crew Dragon. This is because our Soyuz was ideologically built in the 1960s by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev. Even having undergone a lot of changes, it's still flying to this day. It is reliable and its bugs have all been prepared. But in principle it has become an unreliable ship. Even when the Chinese built their ship, "Heavenly Vessel" (Shenzhou) – a beautiful name – based on our Soyuz, they rebuilt the entire article. First, [the Chinese ship] is larger. Second, their housing module is a completely independent vehicle capable of disassembling and flying for up to one month alone. As for the re-entry module, their larger, more reliable and less crowded than ours and so on.

But Elon Musk has built the future ship. It is a seven room spacecraft. It is reusable. It's new technology. Therefore, it strikes Soyuz according to each parameter, at each technological indicator. It is only necessary to prove that it is useful for manned space launches, and in July it will make its first manned flight. Musk will not only go away from Roscosmos … Transportation of foreign astronauts [on Soyuz] to ISS ends. Each year (Russia) we received approx. $ 400 million and now it will end. We will be forced by this, probably to carry tourists, but Musk will also be able to offer lower prices to tourists and he has a ship with seven seats. So what do we even talk about?

Finally, Lukashevich approached the fact that Russia now has to fill the big budget gap.

I'd like to point out something else interesting – from a point of view, it's a good thing because we were with astronauts, we got pretty much free $ 400 million a year at about $ 90 million a year. seat of each foreign astronaut. It is more than the entire price of the rocket and ship and launch together. That means as long as we had at least one foreign astronaut on board, we launched for free. For us it was not just a freebie – it was a narcotic. It allowed us to do absolutely nothing and still make money. And now this drug will be cut off and we will be forced to do something. Either we will go into history with all of our space achievements, such as Portugal, with its discovery of America and Magellan's journeys, etc., or we will have to do something serious.

We need to get down the needle: If our economy is on an oil gas needle [referring to Russia’s primary economic dependence on oil and gas exports] then our space program also has "put on a needle" and becomes dependent on this American money. So now we have to demonstrate what we are really made of. Are we really worthy of Gagarin's glory?

It is certainly not the kind of thing one expects to hear too often from Russia about its venerable space program, but this kind of criticism is not unique. Former cosmonaut Valery Ryumin recently said that Roscosmos leaders "blow more smoke than do anything material." And another space editor said the Russian space program was in the lead to enter the dark age.

At the end of his interview, Lukashevich raises a good question. So far, Russia has largely blamed others for its problems in space or overlooked them. Should Russia face its problems or continue to flare and completely destroy its remarkable six-decade heritage of groundbreaking spaceflight?

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