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Outside View: Perminov plays it safe

By ANDREI KISLYAKOV, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Aug. 27, 2007 at 1:51 PM
MOSCOW, Aug. 27 (UPI) -- Russia's Federal Space Agency will go slow on its strategy for manned flights. At any rate, this is the implication made by its chief, Anatoly Perminov, at a news conference held at the MAKS-2007 air show on Aug. 22.

"Our main goal is to use the reliable old systems for manned flights," Perminov said in a preamble to the subject of new spacecraft and deep-space studies. As a matter of fact, his words can be taken as a long-awaited policy statement, bringing much needed clarity to the issue of Russia's space transport system development and informing about future prospects for Russian and international manned flight programs.

Can the goal be considered achieved? Let us pause and consider two basic points heard despite the roar of MiG and Su fighter jets performing fantastic stunts overhead.

First, after saying that a $400 billion to $500 billion manned journey to Mars was currently an impossibility, he stressed the need for "thorough modernization of existing manned spacecraft and development of new ones on their basis." Second, he underscored that new equipment would be developed in close contact with the European Space Agency.

So far so good. But one wonders how long we can continue to upgrade and modernize equipment that was first developed years and years ago. The Soyuz, which has been over-modernized, is doubtless a very dependable workhorse, but there are limits to everything. Perhaps there are some new ideas for modernization? I would gladly listen to them, or read about them, but alas. ... And then what does it mean, "development of new craft on the basis of reliable old ones?" New in relation to what? Again the roar of a diving Su-30 drowned the answer.

That's it. The important thing, according to Vitaly Lopota, the new president of Russia's Space and Rocket Corporation Energia, is that Russia has four new projects concerning manned flight. It is a pity that he did not so much as hint at the specifics. And no MiGs were in the air at the time.

If anything, it is unlikely that these vaguely outlined plans will move beyond the research and development stage. So a new space vehicle is not an immediate prospect.

In other words, questions over manned ships following the winding up of the space shuttle program -- by October 2010 at the latest -- have remained unanswered. How to increase International Space Station crews with the help of old if upgraded three-seat Soyuz craft is not clear.

The Soyuz will not miraculously change to become a Kliper. It is obvious that the Kliper program has been abandoned once and for all. In Perminov's view, the winged configuration of a space ship is no good. Even the Americans, he argued, abandoned the airframe idea for a new transport vehicle. True, shuttles existed and still exist. But the Russian guru is sure that Russia need not imitate the prohibitively costly American experience when it has the low-cost Soyuz project.

Maybe it would be a good idea to take a closer look at the Europeans? But their leisurely pace in making crucial decisions may have a bad effect and slow down the evolution of Russia's space effort, bringing it more in line with that of the human race.

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(Andrei Kislyakov is a political commentator for RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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