Putin Pledges Space Program Support on Cosmonautics Day, Cosmonauts May Make Ocean Landings in Future

Putin Pledges Space Program Support on Cosmonautics Day, Cosmonauts May Make Ocean Landings in Future

As the world celebrates Cosmonautics Day — or Yuri’s Night — in honor of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin making the first human trip into space 52 years ago today, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged support for Russia’s space program.   The amount of money he is willing to commit to space activities between now and 2020 is less than what was announced a few months ago, however.

In December, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said Russia would spend 2.1 trillion rubles (about $70 billion) on the space program between 2013 and 2020.  Today, Putin said it would be 1.6 trillion rubles (about $51.5 billion) during that same time period.  No explanation for the reduction was provided.

Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency cited Putin as calling out in particular continued work on a new launch site in far eastern Siberia, called Vostochny.  Russia has been talking about building a launch site there for many years with the goal of moving launches that now take place at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan within Russia’s own borders.    Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union, but gained its independence with the breakup of the USSR in 1991.   Russia leases Baikonur from Kazakhstan for $115 million a year.  The estimated cost of building Vostochny is $20 billion according to Russia Today, which adds that Putin proposed that the town being built to support Vostochny be named Tsiolkovsky after Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the father of the Soviet/Russian space program.

Putin said today that the first launches from Vostochny will take place in 2015 and it will be fully commissioned by 2020 and thereafter be used to launch space station missions as well as robotic lunar and planetary exploration spacecraft.   National Public Radio (NPR) reports that Putin also said that once crews are launched from Vostochny, they will “probably” land in the ocean rather than enduring the bumpy landings on the steppes of Kazakhstan.   Russian space crews have always landed on land instead of water, so that would be a significant change.   It would be another step towards removing Russia’s dependence on Kazakhstan, but Putin also said that Russia would not entirely abandon Baikonur, which is also used for military and commercial launches.

NPR and Russia Today both report that Putin complained that human spaceflight consumes a large share — 58 percent — of the space budget, limiting what is available for other activities. He said Russia must “keep the leader’s experience of the manned flights and catch up in other space exploration programs.”

Russia Today also reports that Putin authorized the government to consider making Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, into a Ministry.  Putin, Medveyev and other top Russian officials have been debating what changes are needed to fix the space program in the wake of an unusual number of launch failures since December 2010. 

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