TO THE MOON ON A STUDENT TRAVEL PASS


14.12.06
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov)

Why are we all so fond of December? Because it’s the Christmas season and we get presents. They are different for different people, of course, a lollipop for one and an ocean liner for another. Everything depends on the generosity of the giver. But the space industry is a thing apart and does not indulge in petty projects.

NASA, for example, has offered all applicants regular flights to the Moon starting in 2020, and in four years’ time a housewarming party on its first habitable base. To earn that privilege, the whole world has been invited to give a hand by NASA administrator Michael Griffin, especially since more than half of 58 NASA programs are international.

It would be strange if Russia did not respond or just failed to comment on the American gift. But it did and has a firm intention to bestow a generous present on its main partner in space research.

Somewhere between December 1st and 10th, Igor Panarin, the spokesman for the Russian Space Agency (Roskosmos), clarified all the details in the prospects for two-nation Moon cooperation.

“As regards the American Moon project, Roskosmos and NASA have repeatedly discussed the theoretical possibility of Russia’s participation in this project. Following the negotiations, Roskosmos submitted proposals for its participation, in accordance with Russia’s place and role in space exploration.” To leave no doubt about what he meant, he added that “Russia’s role should not be nominal or secondary in the lunar project, but a full-scale and worthy presence.”

Such a statement can hardly be called modest, but we can try to make a contribution to the project, assuming we have technologies to offer the Americans, and can share the financial burden and responsibilities. But it is not that simple. “If the United States offers Russia the required financing for participation in its national lunar program, Russia will most likely accept the offer,” Panarin said.

According to the spokesman, the Americans had earlier suggested that Roskosmos join in their lunar project. I would dare venture a guess that the financial aspect was not the last thing discussed.

But in this case Roskosmos is acting like a student who wants to travel in comfort on his subsidized travel pass. It is hard to believe that NASA will take Russia’s ambitious plans seriously, to put it mildly. At best it will go it alone and pretend nothing had happened.

The point is that Russia’s own Moon plans are not as ambitious as its desire to join others programs. It is no secret that Russia has been engaged in its long-range federal space program for a year now, a program that looks ten years ahead. Its development and approval in the government was no plain sailing. Nevertheless, most experts point to the document’s redeeming feature: no fantastic projects outshine Russia’s vital objectives in the space sector.

In other words, it is a workable program, implementable and well financed. Just have a look at the commentary on the Roskosmos website.

“The Federal Space Program of Russia for the 2006-2015 period, in its section dealing with space facilities for fundamental space research, provides for the exploration of the Moon and other celestial bodies. But, owing to the scanty financial means available, they are currently planned on a small scale.”

Honest and frank. We are not in a position today to mount interplanetary manned expeditions on a large scale. We will limit our ambitions to launching five small satellites to the Moon, scheduled for the period between 2008 and 2015. All other efforts go towards re-establishing Russia’s military satellite grouping and constellations of communications satellites and scientific payloads.

A country that pioneered the space era had no single research satellite in orbit from the beginning of the new century until last summer. Today it has only one, Resurs DK-1, doubling as a means of remote sensing of the Earth and investigations under the international RIM-Pamela and Arina projects. Only a sober assessment of Russia’s own possibilities will ultimately lead to qualitative and quantitative changes in our space industry.

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