Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome was one of the Soviet cosmonautics symbols. It could be compared only with the Cape Canaveral cosmodrome in Florida. After the breakup of the USSR importance of Baikonur started declining, although it still remained the center for launching of Russian missiles. And now, after roof collapse at the cosmodrome on Sunday we see that nothing is left to be proud of. The tragedy not only seriously marred image of the Russian cosmonautics, but also killed eight people.
Components of the Energia booster rocket and almost assembled second sample of Buran, the Soviet copy of the US space shuttle, were in the hangar by the accident’s moment. The first sample of the Buran that only flew once in 1988, remained safe as it was in some other hangar. To tell the truth, it is a poor consolation, as the tragedy killed eight people.
It was known long ago already that the Baikonur cosmodrome was in a poor state because of insufficient financing (a rather typical problem of Russia within the last ten years). For example, the hangar where the accident occurred had been built in the 1970s and was not repaired even once since that time. The eight-man construction team killed in the accident was sent to repair the roof.
A governmental commission headed by Science and Industry Minister Ilya Klebanov says the tragedy occurred because of negligence of workers who constructed the building in the 1970s. Probably, the bearing structures of the hangar were badly constructed. Earlier the media reported, the accident could be caused by a diversion. Ilya Klebanov does not consider the last version really probable, as the cosmodrome is well guarded despite numerous problems of the space complex.
It is not clear yet whether the Sunday tragedy will have an effect on the program for International Space Station construction. One thing is clear, the tragedy has produced a negative effect on prestige of the national cosmonautics. Although it is said that launching of Russian missiles will be soon transferred to other cosmodromes (to the Plesetsk cosmodrome, for example), Baikonur is still going to remain Russia’s central cosmodrome for a very long period. Another problem arises, how long will the cosmodrome exist in its present-day condition? What would happen, if a similar tragedy occurred at the moment of launching a missile with a crew with on board? And what if foreign pilots were on board as well? To tell the truth, lack of financing is not the only problem of the Baikonur cosmodrome. Obviously, the space complex has to take so-called “space tourists” on board because of high payments they make (payments reach even $20 million for a flight). It is nice that these tourists do not cause harm.
The Russian authorities seem to be still not absolutely definite as for importance of the national cosmonautics for the country. Indeed, space exploration is really very important in today’s life, and Russia’s unique experience in the sphere can be really very useful. Unfortunately, it is impossible for Russia to keep priority in all spheres of cosmonautics under present-day conditions.
Vasily Bubnov PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/05/14/41068.html