Not Rocket Science? Some In Kremlin Orbit Greet SpaceX Success With A Dose Of Derision
By Michael Scollon June 02, 2020
When two NASA astronauts blasted off on May 30 under American -- albeit commercially produced -- power for the first time in nearly a decade, much of the world celebrated the achievement.
But in Russia, the United States' traditional space rival, congratulations on the successful launch and delivery of crew members to the International Space Station (ISS) came, at least from several officials and pro-Kremlin pundits, with a dose of derision.
"The hysteria raised after the successful launch of the Crew Dragon spacecraft is hard to understand," Vladimir Ustimenko, a spokesman for the Russian space agency Roskosmos, wrote on Twitter on May 31. "What has happened should have happened long ago. Now it's not only the Russians flying to the ISS, but also the Americans. Well that's wonderful!"
Aleksei Pushkov, a Kremlin ally in the upper parliament house who is a frequent critic of the United States and the West, also suggested the voyage of veteran astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken was ho-hum, emphasizing on Telegram that "this is a flight to the International Space Station, not to Mars." He added that, in future, Russia should save seats on its spacecraft headed for the ISS for its own astronauts.
Ustimenko and Pushkov were not the only ones who sounded unimpressed by the accomplishment of SpaceX, the rocket company owned by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk that took a giant leap into the space race after NASA mothballed its space shuttle fleet in 2011. But others suggested Russia should come to grips with the loss of its lucrative, nearly decade-long monopoly on manned flights.
'The Trampoline Is Working'
Some pundits described the development as a wake-up call for Russia's space program, and Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin was reminded of the days when, as a deputy prime minister targeted by U.S. sanctions over the Kremlin's hostile takeover of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, he suggested that the punitive measures would hit them like a "boomerang."
"After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest…the USA bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline," Rogozin wrote on Twitter in April 2014.
Musk, who only days before Rogozin's tweet had suggested that the Russian might benefit financially from the purchase of rocket components by SpaceX's main competitor, got some payback after this week's successful launch.
"The trampoline is working," Musk said at a postlaunch press conference alongside NASA director James Bridenstine, who mentioned Rogozin's statement of congratulations and said that NASA's Russian partners "believe in cooperation, and I think it will remain strong."
It was laughed off as an "inside joke," but pro-Kremlin state TV talk show host Vladimir Solovyov took it as a challenge.
"'The trampoline works,' Musk poked Rogozin," Solovyov wrote on his Telegram channel on March 31. "How will Roskosmos answer? The ball is in our court. No need to rush. Musk prepared his answer for several years."
On his feed, Solovyov also shared a blistering post from the Telegram channel Nevrotik, an influencer who describes himself as a "simple peasant with understanding and common sense."
Nevrotik said that media coverage of the SpaceX launch was full of words like "historic," "new era," and other laudations.
But what "we really have," according to Nevrotik, is that after a long and heavy drinking bout, space power No. 2 has returned. And this really should be welcomed: Otherwise we would miss you and be without our reliable competitor and ally."
On June 1, popular blogger Maksim Kononenko, meanwhile, assured Russian readers that "we have much to be proud of besides manned space flights."
Alluding to the recent news that Russia's Health Ministry had granted approval for a Russian-produced drug called Avifavir to help fight the coronavirus outbreak, Kononenko wrote that "it turns out that "we are among the handful of countries that produce working (this is important) antiviral drugs."
While writing that while "flying into space is very cool, of course," Kononenko suggested that it was "fashionable 50 years ago."
A cure for the coronavirus, however, is in demand "right now," he wrote.
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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