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

Enlarge / With its nose open, Dragon reveals its docking mechanism as it approaches the station's Harmony module.NASA One of the major issues surrounding the first launch of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft was how the Russians would react. They have had a great deal of weakness in the International Space Station Partnership by controlling access to the orbiting laboratory since the 201 1 retirement of NASA Space Shuttle. So far, the Russian answer has been to throw small pieces of shadow here and there, but try not to be obvious about it. On Sunday, when SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft docked with the International Space Station, the Russian space company snatched cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko into the Russian segment of the station. This was, Roscosmos said, so that Kononenko could take emergency measures if the dragon became uncontrollable and crashed into the space station. After the successful docking, Roscosmos tweeted a Russian language to NASA, but stressed the fact "flight safety must be over accusation". An hour later, it published a rare tweet in English and sent "its sincere compliments to the NASA colleagues," but without the emphasis on vehicle safety. Neither tweet mentioned SpaceX. (Later, Roscosmos said NASA ordered the ship and consequently deserved congratulations.) On Monday, the Russian space company again shook and shared images of Kononenko, NASA's Anne McClain and Canadian David Saint-Jacques in their protective masks before entering the dragon. (This was a safety measure with the new vehicle that visited.) The readers wanted to know that the assignment…

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

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

NASA

One of the major issues surrounding the first launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft was how the Russians would react. They have had a great deal of weakness in the International Space Station Partnership by controlling access to the orbiting laboratory since the 201

1 retirement of NASA Space Shuttle. So far, the Russian answer has been to throw small pieces of shadow here and there, but try not to be obvious about it.

On Sunday, when SpaceX’s Dragon Spacecraft docked with the International Space Station, the Russian space company snatched cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko into the Russian segment of the station. This was, Roscosmos said, so that Kononenko could take emergency measures if the dragon became uncontrollable and crashed into the space station.

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

On Monday, the Russian space company again shook and shared images of Kononenko, NASA’s Anne McClain and Canadian David Saint-Jacques in their protective masks before entering the dragon. (This was a safety measure with the new vehicle that visited.) The readers wanted to know that the assignment had made history differently. “For the first time in the station’s history, the crew worked in Russian-made IPK gas masks,” the tweet was quoted .

Finally on Tuesday, Russian sources told Sputnik and other 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 reality, the concentrations were quite low and disappeared after the astronauts at the station used normal procedures to cycle the air.

Realpolitik

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

During the interview, Lukashevich says that there are good reasons that the Russians feel threatened. (In the quote below, he refers to Roscosmo’s leader Dmitry Rogozin, who was sanctioned by the US government in 2014 and then suggested NASA should use a trampoline to get to space.

With this launch, if ordered by NASA, this private company SpaceX has made Roscosmos void, they have shown Roscosmos who is who everyone remembers Rogozin’s comments on trampolines and such, so it’s actually not just anger, it’s a constant big headache for Roscosmos. Secondly, Roscosmos sent two congratulations quotes, one in English and a completely different text in Russian, so it is obviously a sign of resentment, that is the reaction of an unreliable leader who is lagging behind, so it was really strange that they (Roscosmos) responded at all. Keep in mind that Roscosmos never actually gave his approval to the dock, expressing a number of technical issues, perhaps even with some reason, but we saw that the docking was simply brilliant as it took place. So, it was a reaction from someone left behind.

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

Look, if we compare the ships on a technical level, our Soyuz is basically not able to compete with SpaceXs Crew Dragon. This is because our Soyuz ideologically was built in the 1960s by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev. Although it has undergone a major change, it still flies to this day. It is reliable and its bugs have all been worked out. But it has become an unreliable ship in principle. Even when the Chinese built their ship, “Heavenly Vessel” (Shenzhou) – a pretty name-based on our Soyuz, they built the whole article. First, [the Chinese ship] is larger. Secondly, their housing module is a completely independent vehicle that can dock and fly for up to a month on its own. As for the re-entry module, their larger, more reliable and less crowded than ours and so on.

But Elon Musk has built future ships. It’s a seven-seat spacecraft. It is reusable. It’s new technology. Consequently, it switches Soyuz according to each parameter, by each technical indicator. It just needs to prove its usefulness for manned space launches, and then in July it will make its first manned flight. Musk will not only take away from Roscosmos … The transport of foreign astronauts [on Soyuz] to the ISS ends. Every year (Russia) we received about $ 400 million, and now it will end. We will probably have to carry tourists, but Musk will also be able to offer lower prices to tourists, and he has a seven-seater ship. So what do we even talk about?

Finally, Lukashevich raised the fact that Russia now has to fill the large budget hole.

I want to point out something else interesting – from a point of view, this is a good thing, because we were astronauts, we basically got free $ 400 million a year about $ 90 million per seat for every foreign astronaut. It is more than the entire cost of the rocket and the ship and the launch at a time. 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 narcotic substance will be cut off, and we will have to do something. Either we will go into history along with all our space achievements, such as Portugal, with the discovery of America and Magellan’s travel, etc., or we have to do something seriously.

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 show what we really are. Are we really worthy of Gagarin’s honor?

Admittedly, this is not what one expects to hear from Russia about their worthy space program, but this type of criticism is not unique. Former cosmonaut Valery Ryumin recently said that Roscosmo’s leader “blows more smoke than to do something substantive”. And another space editor said the Russian space program was about to enter dark ages.

At the end of his interview, Lukashevich raises a good question. So far, Russia has to a large extent either blamed others for their problems in space or overlooked them. Will Russia address its problems or continue to bluster and completely waste its remarkable, six-decade legacy of groundbreaking spaceflight?

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