After a Soviet American spacecraft Apollo and Soviet Soyuz docked in orbit during the Cold War era, in 1975, the two most important space powers were increasingly working on the activities of the " civil space Over time, they forged a success and, at least, between astronauts and engineers, even a comfortable link. But later, this link is unreasonable and, in the long term, it can be completely unraveled.
The closest compromise is Dmitry Rogozin, appointed to lead the Russian space corporation Roscosmos in May 2018. In general, Rogozin shares Vladimir Putin's dislike on the west. After the Crimean crisis in 2014, Rogozin was one of the seven Russian officials sanctioned by Obama's administration. In response, NASA attacked, which then entrusted (and still does) to the Russian ship of Soyuz to arrive at the International Space Station.
"After analyzing sanctions against our space industry, he suggests to the United States that they bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a springboard," Rogozin, then deputy prime minister of Russia on defense and space, tweeted in Russian at the time.
When the manager of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, visited Russia and Kazakhstan last year, he returned with an invitation to Rogozin to visit the United States and a lecture at Alma mater of Bridenstine, at the Houston Rice University. But due to the controversial past of Rogozin and the existing sanctions, several American senators were vehemently opposed to their visit. This forced NASA to delay the visit indefinitely earlier this month.
This week there was an attempt to repair the fence. Bridenstine and Rogozin held a teleconference to discuss cooperation in the ISS program and other projects. It is not clear in what way the call was, since NASA was closed, and the agency did not disclose details. According to a family source with the White House space policy, despite some raids in Russia, there has been no immediate repercussion on the spatial relationship between the US and Russia due to the withdrawal of the invitation However, this kerfuffle would surely have wound some egos on the Russian side.
And the relations were already a bit uncomfortable after infused Russian insinuations about NASA astronauts' sabotage at the space station at the end of last year. This unfounded charge left doubts in the mind of both NASA and Russian space leaders about the relationship.
But these are just the most visible problems. There are more serious and underlying tensions. These come from the fear of NASA of a systematic decline in the quality of Russian hardware and practices, such as what has probably been produced with Soyuz filtration and, separately, a rocket failure Soyuz l & # 39; last year. In short, the human space program in Russia seems to be a force of disappearance. And as the role of Russia in space is diminishing over time, it is questioned what role it is reasonable to expect the country to play in the United States space flight activities after the end of the ISS program in some moment during 2020.
A slow decrease
The first Soviet successes to the space were based on a series of very specific characteristics of its aerospace industry, said the author and space historian Jim Oberg. During the apogee of the space race of the sixties, aerospace workers received special privileges, such as access to certain shops, hospitals and tourist centers, and the best graduates of Soviet schools were introduced in the space program They also had a margin of maneuver about intellectual freedom during the Soviet era.
In recent years, most of these benefits have disappeared. They are no longer Russian aerospace workers at the forefront of the most important space activities in the world: they build the same rockets or spacecraft that Russia has built since the 1960's and the seventies. Big money days have also disappeared, and there are not even resources to prevent aging sites from being sold with garbage. In general, Russian space workers are poorly compensated. Over time, quality has suffered.
"Its space industry seems to have lost, for an indefinite future, the ability to manufacture module modules of the station's class, as well as during the last three decades that have been lost and failed in all attempts to rebuild its The ability to launch and operate scientific probes on the moon and planets, "said Oberg. "It is a cruel essay to say that you can count on the number of successful Russian missions in deep space in those 30 years without hands."
The reality is that in Russia there is currently an orbital taxi service on the Soyuz rocket and the spacecraft, but beyond the association with the International Space Station, Russia has little chance of building a station of its own within a decade. And every year, Oberg said, more of his experienced panel of engineers and technicians were withdrawn, taking their knowledge and judgment with them.
"It is not a good tendency for them or for the rest of the world to benefit from their productive presence, in cooperation and in competition, in the space," Oberg said.
It is no longer the same
In the 1990s, the United States and Russia could be considered, roughly, equal in the man's space flight capabilities. NASA had its upper space shuttle, but Russia had much more experience with orbital modules and space stations after its Mir program. Now, Russia has lost this advantage, and when NASA's commercial crew vehicles enter the end of this year and the operational service begins shortly after, Russia will no longer be essential for NASA and the States Units in space.
"I think we are going through a long transition in the relationship," said John Logsdon, a remarkable historian of the space. "When Russia joined the station's association, it demanded and obtained, based on its experience in human space flights, the first treatment among United States partners. Now, 25 years later, it's no longer a superpower in the space, countries. "
As a result, Russia's ability to make important contributions to the NASA proposal, Gateway near the Moon, and other plans, is in doubt. The Russians are not blind to this, but it is not possible that no leader like Rogozin easily accepts they He was a pioneer in the human space flight. So far, the Russian response seems to propose large and ambitious civil space projects – such as its own lunar landings or large rockets – as if they had financing to carry them out. No, of course, and some Russian commentators have warned that the space program is approaching "dark ages."
In the coming years, when NASA begins to fly elegant and modern commercial vehicles, and US companies, such as the United Launch Alliance, become less dependent on Russian technology (specifically, the RD-180 rocket engine) for To reach the space, the relationship can lean more or it can break. The reality is that, while Russia looks the same, NASA and its business partners will look at China and Chinese companies as the main rivals in space.