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Partners in space -- Part 1

By YURY ZAITSEV, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Oct. 15, 2007 at 12:43 PM   |   Comments

MOSCOW, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- October has brought welcome news. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, on a visit to Moscow, said he looks forward to Russians and Americans flying together to the moon next decade. International projects, he said, were better paying than national ones.

Meanwhile, Russian-American space cooperation has a history to celebrate. In May 1972 the two superpowers agreed to join forces for progress. Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and U.S. President Richard Nixon signed an agreement on cooperation in space exploration and utilization.

Three years later commanders Alexei Leonov of the Soviet Soyuz-19 spacecraft and Thomas Stafford of the American Apollo-18 shook hands in orbit. The Soyuz-Apollo program was in effect a political step. It did not contribute significantly to space exploration. For the next 20 years the effort stalled.

At the same time when the joint mission was prepared quite a few difficulties had to be overcome because each country had its specific program and national technological solutions were often incompatible. The experience came in handy when shuttle flights to the Mir space station and construction of the International Space Station began. The ISS remained the only joint field of activity in the post-Soviet period. But American fears that the construction would result in the leaking of national scientific and military secrets were not justified.

Actually, the movement was in the opposite direction, as NASA experts admitted.

Cooperation prospects in manned flights that opened up before Russia helped it gain access to the launch services market. During the Cold War, it was closed to the Soviet Union, burdened with all sorts of export restrictions. At the time Russia possessed the most cost-effective launching facilities. But Western telecom companies were unable to use them. If they violated the ban, they could face sanctions.

The joint manned program came to dominate the other and more modest efforts under international projects involving the use of unmanned craft. That was due to the shifting of emphasis from unmanned to manned activities and retrenchment of space funding in Russia. The plans to launch the Spektr-Rentgen-Gamma astrophysical observatory in the 1990s never came to pass. Russia was just unable to deliver its part of the project. The costly scientific payload manufactured in America and other countries remained uncalled for.

Mars exploration has always been a priority both in the Russian and American space programs. That prompted a desire to coordinate the two as well as other planetary studies. The sides even set up two task groups to define research goals that could be reached at minimum cost. The groups came to be called "Mars Together" and "Fire and Ice."

Mars Together was to work out a concept of a joint flight by research laboratories to the red planet. The idea was to combine an American Explorer launch with Russia's Mars-96 mission. Consideration was also given to other alternative plans after 1998, including bringing samples of Martian soil back to Earth.

Fire and Ice was to be concerned with two extreme points of the solar system -- the sun and the remotest planet of its system, Pluto. A spacecraft expected to fly towards the sun would have been a combination of an American unmanned probe and a Russian optical module.

Two American stations were to be launched towards Pluto by Russia's Proton vehicle. Each of them was to carry Russian detachable modules to effect a rendezvous with the planet or its satellite, Charon. But, despite agreed political backing, the projects were never realized.

The results of Mars Together were more positive. Admittedly, the Russian Mars-96 automatic probe with an international instrument package proved a failure, missing its interplanetary trajectory. But later the United States and Russia agreed to install Russian instruments on American stations bound for Mars. The first two such launches were abortive. Success only came in 2001, with the Mars-Odyssey station.

The High Energy Neutron Detector developed at Russia's Space Research Institute and mounted on it fulfilled its mission: It discovered vast water reserves directly under the surface layer of Martian soil.

On Oct. 3, in Moscow, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the launching of the first-ever satellite, Russian Space Agency head Anatoly Perminov and NASA Administrator Michael Griffin signed an agreement on new scientific projects, LEND and DAN, which are to continue Russian-American Mars and moon cooperation.

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(Next: The need for more U.S.-Russian space cooperation)

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(Yury Zaitsev is an expert with the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 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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