Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Thoughts On Russia's Space Program


Video of today's Progress M-12M/44P launch, which re-entered and crashed shortly following its launch due to a propulsion system failure. Video courtesy of Spaceflight101.

I discovered tons of rather nasty comments on Space.com's Facebook page about this Russian launch failure which took place earlier today. The comments basically had the tone of "Why did we get rid of the space shuttle?" and "Why are we allowing THEM to take us into space?" In a moment of exasperation, apparently it's very easy to forget manned and unmanned spaceflight history. 

Let's take a moment to review some U.S. launch failures (yes, we have had a few). I had a friend who was at the Delta rocket explosion extravaganza in the late 1990s when basically all of the cars in and around Launch Complex 17 were destroyed by 200 pound chunks of flaming rocket debris. (He was fine. His car wasn't.) In NASA's 50-odd years of history, we've unfortunately lost a lot of satellites due to launch vehicle failures. These things happen. Let's not forget that spaceflight, at best, is incredibly risky.

Opponents of Russia's spaceflight program LOVE to bring up Soyuz's ill-fated first flight and Soyuz 11. Let it be said the NASA was not all all happy and smug that their Soviet counterparts encountered tragic failures. Deke Slayton's face is lined with obvious emotion while making a statement about the loss of Soyuz 1. It's a horrific tragedy when any human being, regardless of political stance, is lost while merely doing his or her job. In 1967, the U.S. also experienced its own loss with the flash fire which ended the lives of the Apollo 1 crew. It goes without saying that the Challenger and Columbia accidents were extremely upsetting and traumatizing to everyone involved in both countries' space programs. The wounds experienced in the quest for manned spaceflight run incredibly deep on both sides of the ocean.

My stance is that we're all brothers and sisters in spaceflight, despite political affiliations, nationality, color, religion, and gender. No one OWNS space. The U.S. has made wonderful achievements in spaceflight over the last 50 years; we managed to land men on the moon with the barest of technologies. Let's not forget the Russian space program put the first man (and woman) in space. They set the bar extremely high for us, and we should be grateful for that. Due to their tenacity, we were inspired to enter the game of homesteading space. 

UPDATE, 6:36 PM: Today's Progress launch failure is already causing considerable political fallout. Are you kidding me?  Why don't you guys in the House worry about the crappy economy before you decide to diss the Russian space program? 

UPDATE, 6:47 PM: Today's rocket failure has prompted Russia's space program to halt its manned spaceflight program temporarily. The rocket which launches Progress cargo vessels also launches manned Soyuz missions. No word yet on how this may affect future ISS missions. Keep reading This Space Available for future updates.