It has been a very bad year for Rocosmos, the Russian space agency. Going into November, the agency had already experienced a pair of high-profile failures in the past year. To make matters even worse, Phobos-Grunt, perhaps the most ambitious Mars mission in history, failed thanks to a faulty rocket booster.
Now, billions of rubles wasted, Russian President Demitry Medvedev has decided that top brass at Rocosmos could use a little extra motivation in order to work a little harder: threats of fines and/or criminal prosecution.
Speaking on the string of space failures, Medvedev stated that “the latest failures [in the space industry] seriously harm Russia’s competitiveness.” While that was a serious taking to task in itself, the following statement left nothing on the table: “this means that we need to conduct a serious analysis and punish those responsible.”
In the past year, Rocosmos has seen many top officials sacked as a result of mission failures. Now, if the threat of being fired weren’t enough, Russia’s top space officials now have to worry about criminal implications of their missions’ successes or failures. Now, while Medvelev’s threat is nowhere near as Stalin’s reputed quip of shooting physicists for not developing an A-bomb fast enough, is seriously raises the stakes for everyone, especially those at the top of Rocosmos.
As an interesting question, are the Russians right?
On one hand, Medvelev seems to be looking out for the Russian people. After all, like in America, the Russian space program is supported by taxpayers’ money. In a nation where the average income is about $16,000, money is precious and many Russians already feeling taxed enough may cheer the idea to hold officials responsible for what could be considered a waste of taxpayer money. On the other hand, no one ever said that space exploration was easy. In the history of traveling to the edge of the cosmos, many missions have failed and many lives have been lost. If nations had jailed their best space scientists in light of a mission failure (as the Russians may do), the best minds will be out of the program, bringing other, less experienced people into their place, resulting in an increased risk of future failure. The snowball analogy is obvious.
So, what will come of the Rocosmos in the face of President Medvelev’s idea? Only time will tell. Who knows, like too many of Russia’s recent missions, this proposed threat may never take flight, either
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