Friday, September 28, 2012

Follow the Leader

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka in May 2012 during quarantine before his launch to the International Space Station. Image source: NASA.

Space Coast congressional representatives Sandy Adams and Bill Posey have falsely claimed that President Obama has ceded space leadership to other nations, Russia and China in particular.

Here's more evidence that they've been lying to you.

After his September 17 return from the International Space Station, Russian space veteran Gennady Padalka told reporters at a post-flight press conference that his nation's space technology is grossly inferior to the United States.

"Our partners have launched a rover on Mars. They are testing commercial spacecraft, Mars rovers, unique landing equipment. I would like that to also happen in Russia. We are waiting for it," Padalka told reporters after a post-flight press conference held in the Cosmonaut Training center in the Moscow region.

Padalka said the Russian space equipment is highly reliable and safe, but is obsolete and no significant modernization processes are observed.

"These technologies date back to the 1980s. Nothing has been done in the twenty years since the foundation of new Russia. We are using the achievements of the Soviet Union," Padalka, who has visited the ISS many times, said.

Speaking about the achievements of his U.S. and European colleagues, Padalka said he had seen a robot working on the ISS.

An article published today on by Russian space analyst Jim Oberg provides far more blunt comments made by Padalka.

At the traditional Russian post-landing press conference on Sept. 21, cosmonaut Gennady Padalka complained about the "spartan" conditions aboard the Russian side of the station, especially as compared with the American side. The conditions were cold, noisy, overstuffed with equipment, and cramped — each Russian had about one-seventh the living space that the American astronauts had. "All of this gives serious inconvenience in the operation of the Russian segment," he said ... The equipment, he continued, was reliable and safe but was decades out of date. "Nothing has been done in the 20 years since the foundation of the new Russia," he complained. The Russian space technology is technologically bankrupt and "morally exhausted." It was, he told reporters, "frozen in the last century." He contrasted those conditions with the spaciousness and modernity of the American modules, and praised the advanced technology he saw there: the robotics experiment ("As always, still under study in Russia") and SpaceX's commercial spacecraft docking, for example.

Oberg's article about Roscosmos sounds similar to the complaints about NASA's bureaucracy. A bloated aerospace industry lacking sufficient demand. An aging workforce with obsolete skills. Grandiose plans to "fly everywhere" without the money or political commitment to support it.

Roscosmos General Director Vladimir Popovkin predicted today that, "Unless we undertake extreme measures, the sector will be uncompetitive within three-four years." Image source: RIA Novosti.

It's clear, however, that the Russians understand just how big a threat SpaceX is to the status quo.

[Roscosmos General Director Vladimir] Popovkin validated Padalka's assessment of the lack of technological progress by warning that Western advances into privatized space launch services would soon drive Russia out of the last corner of the international space industry where it had any standing. "We will become uncompetitive in the next three or four years if we don’t take urgent measures," he told the students.

Popovkin made his remarks in a lecture to science and technology students. You read about his remarks here and here on the English language version of the RIA Novosti web site

Among other measures, Popovkin suggests moving more of their space bureaucracy into the private sector. Sound familiar?

The Romney-Ryan campaign's space policy paper claimed, "America’s capabilities are eroding, and with each passing year will become more difficult to rebuild."

They should ask the Russians. It's pretty clear they don't agree.

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