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WHY ARE WE FIGHTING FOR THE MOON AGAIN?
15/02/07
Moscow. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov)

We are probably doing it just to remind ourselves of the maxim that the new
is the well-forgotten old. There is no other explanation for this year’s
focus on the lunar subject.

Many, if not the majority, do not see it as a problem at all. Everything is
perfectly clear. The Moon is the concern of the United States, Europe,
India, and China. It goes without saying that “…Russia should not waste
time if it wants to keep its lead in the lunar exploration,” said Georgy
Polishchyuk, Lavochkin Association CEO.

But why should we try to keep the lead today? Why should we strain
ourselves to the utmost to prove something to somebody for the umpteenth
time? Moreover, why should we do this, if we are certain of the result?

If we lose our vigilance even for a moment, the Moon, this evil black hole,
will deprive us of energy and paralyze our will. Indicatively, both sides
came to the same conclusion right after Yury Gagarin’s triumph – whoever
wants to take the lead, has to do something extraordinary, like fly to the
Moon.

On April 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked Vice President Lyndon B.
Johnson, who was in charge of space exploration, whether the U.S. could
outdo the U.S.S.R. and land on the Moon first. Johnson wisely re-addressed
this question to “space baron” Wernher von Braun. The seasoned German, who
was well versed in U.S. domestic policy, nodded in agreement. This is how
the famous Apollo program was born.


The Soviet Union accepted the challenge without hesitation. On August 3,
1964, after the news about the American Saturn-1 heavy launcher’s
successful mission, the Soviet government passed a special resolution on
lunar and space exploration, specifying that a Soviet cosmonaut would land
on the Moon in 1967, on the 50th anniversary of the 1917 revolution.
So said, so done. Moscow reoriented the entire space industry and R&D to
the lunar program. The N model lunar carrier dominated missile
construction. The world famous Soyuz manned spaceships were designed for
this particular program.


Everyone knows the outcome -- boosters exploded in the direct vicinity of
launching pads. During three unmanned launches in 1966-1967, the Soyuz
spacecraft failed to carry out automatic docking. The ensuing decision to
send a manned mission cost cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov his life.
It is hard to remain indifferent when one reads that despite all the
disasters, in the fall of 1968 the would-be lunar cosmonauts asked the
Communist Party Central Committee to allow them to fly to the Moon. In a
collective letter, they wrote that a crew would make the spacecraft more
reliable. Fortunately, common sense prevailed among the party leadership.
On December 21, 1968, the Americans scored a lunar victory – the Apollo-8
with three astronauts on board completed ten lunar orbits and safely
returned home.
At that time, the lunar missions pursued exclusively political goals. I’m
ready to listen to counter arguments, but little has changed nowadays, if
at all.
Having got tired of shuttles and the international space station in the
near-Earth orbit, three years ago the Americans proclaimed an ambitious
program of manned missions to the Moon and the Mars. Neither economic, nor
scientific goals were substantiated. But this new space initiative is
entirely consonant with Washington’s global domination attitude.
Let’s turn to Soviet cosmonautics. The lunar theme has been increasingly
dominant in it for about a year. The first cautious lunar plans of the
space industry have become incredibly ambitious. The motive is the same –
to ensure Russia’s lead in conquering other planets with a view to
achieving global supremacy in space exploration, and gaining a technical
capability of landing on the Moon in less than ten years. They have quoted
one economic reason though – an opportunity to get helium-3, which will
help the world to save its energy problems in long-term perspective. But
the price of the effort…
Incidentally, the price tag is very clear-cut as distinct from the motives
of remote launches. America paid $24.5 billion for its Apollo program.
Adjusted for inflation, this sum will exceed $100 billion today. A modest
lunar bungalow for the equipment of extra-terrestrial diggers will cost by
an order more.
But for us, 100 billion is as astronomical as a trillion because Roscosmos
(Russian Federal Space Agency) has a budget of $1.7 billion, which includes
all payments for launching services. Even if the costs of the future
domestic Apollo are reduced to the minimum at the expense of wages
(Newsweek wrote that Russia’s leading Energia corporation pays its workers
$400 per month), Russia will still have to spend billions upon billions.
But the money is either there or not. Why not spend $5.5 billion on the
study of the Earth and other planets next year, if NASA can afford it? We
have two remote sensors for studying our own planet, and only one of them
is at work. Meanwhile, on a par with communication satellites, remote
sensing is one of the most profitable directions of international business
in space.
Dozens of research craft appear in orbit, but they do not belong to
Roscosmos. I will keep it a secret how many Russian space vehicles are
moving forward the cause of global science.
Today, we are happy to see that the funding and potentialities of Russian
cosmonautics have increased substantially. We can consider restoration of
satellite constellations, which are very helpful in defense and all domains
of civilian life.
I wish I did not have to repeat the words said by a Soviet space program
director in the remote 1960s. After yet another disaster in the battle for
the Moon, he observed bitterly: “We are shooting with cities.” -0-