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Russia Does Not Need The Moon

The dark side of the moon.
by Andrei Kislyakov
UPI Outside View Commentator
Moscow (UPI) Feb 27, 2007
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, U.S. President John F. Kennedy asked Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was in charge of space exploration, whether the United States could outdo the Soviet Union. 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 Aug. 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 and 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 Dec. 21, 1968, the Americans scored a lunar victory -- the Apollo-8 with three astronauts on board completed 10 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 Russia, $100 billion is as astronomical as a trillion because Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, has an annual 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."

(Andrei Kislyakov is a political commentator for the RIA Novosti news agency. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

Source: United Press International

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