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Russian space program -- book chapter conclusions

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Old May 23rd 07, 03:31 PM posted to sci.space.policy,sci.space.history
Michael Turner
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Default Russian space program -- book chapter conclusions

On May 22, 3:58 pm, "R.Glueck" wrote:
What strikes me is Russians total reliance on the Soyuz technology of the
1960's. Here is a heavy "capsule" style space craft which has a superb
success history, yet all technical revisions have been based on standard
U.S. space development. Light weight components are hardly Russian
developments. If history serves me well, was the major upgrade in Soyuz a
trade-off by the USA as a mean of killing MIR and dragging the Russians into
the ISS program?

There is a more-than-slight redolence of obsolete Cold War rivalry in
this comment. If globalization means anything, it means that nations
build upon their specialties and unique advantages. Maybe the
Russians can't do lightweight components very well. But can we beat
the Russians in costs to put a given mass into orbit? No. We have
the high tech. They have the cheap labor. If you've got something
against cheap labor, inspect all tags next time you go to Walmart.
You won't be able to buy very much Made in America.

You make an important point about more modern space ventures, such as
"Buran" being a total loss, even as the Russian (at least as of my last trip
over, in 94) maintained the face saving official story that it was merely
postponed. Even the bulk of their relics are gone, history, dust, toastski.
Now that the shuttle has almost finished it's risky use to the United
States, there appears to be an even wider technology gap between the Russian
engineers and their counterparts in the west. They needn't put capital into
development, what we develop will likely be shared for free.

Well, what about licensing it to them commercially, rather than simply
offering it for free?

Still there is
an adage that says, "use it or lose it", and I think Russian aerospace
engineers must feel like fifth wheels.

One might say much the same for Japanese engineers. Companies like
Canon and Sony have very thick patent portfolios, but on closer
inspection, much of the real innovation is being done for them in
foreign subsidiaries. One need not originate technology to benefit by
it, learn from it, build upon it. Ah, the mortifying shame of being a
mere "technician" -- but then look at all those Japanese corporations
blushing all the way to the bank. A technological showcase is basis
for little more than nationalistic chest-thumping. The real winners
aren't the ones with the smartest engineers and scientists, they are
the ones who seek and exploit opportunities most energetically. And
that comes only of doing business in do-or-die mode.

"Orion" is going to bring back older design technogy to the USA, which could
be argues as a giant leap backwards. There are those who will say the
Soviets/Russians side-stepped the folly of a fixed wing orbiter. I would
disagree. If Soyuz was to become obsolete today, I wonder if they'd have the
capacity to engineer a new orbital vehicle from scratch?

Who cares? Very little has come from engineering from scratch in
almost any technological domain you can think of. Successful
launchers all have heritage. Much of the Industrial Revolution was
copy-paste from blueprints, reusing design knowledge in ignorance of
what fundamentally made things work in the first place. (Sometimes
science explained it only long after the fact.) Was the Shuttle a
success? Perhaps in some sense, but certainly not in the economic
sense. Great payload bay, and all that, but it's clearly not
necessary to build a space station. Mir was proof enough of that. If
we had to do Shuttle all over again from scratch (*shudder* ... in
some inner circle of Hell), could *we* do it? America has its own
demographic crisis in space expertise -- it's not just for Russians

Furthermore, isn't
Soyuz obsolete already? It will never have the capacity of "Orion", and
"Orion" technology may not be made available to every friendly nation that
wants to use it.

Capacity in what sense? How much you can put up in one throw? Or how
much you can put up for a fixed number of dollars? So long as Russian
engineers, factory workers and technicians are making 1/10th as much
as their western counterparts, Russia will be the low-cost leader.

It's difficult to imagine the great state that produced Sputnik, Gagarin,
and Korolev, reduced to a taxi company, picking up wealthy business people
for a ride to the glory they once, for a short time, monopolized.

Gee, that's a profoundly anti-capitalist sentiment if I ever heard
one. Ever had to make payroll? Ever pick up an underutilized asset
and turn a profit on it? Or for that matter, ever pick one up with
high hopes, only to make a loss on it, getting a hard lesson that
sobered you and humbled you and made you a better business operator in
the end?

Khruschev is spinning in his gave, no doubt.

No doubt. He's thinking, "Gee, what little of Soviet Socialism that
didn't get thrown into the dustbin of history is now being criticized
by people from capitalist nations for being crassly profit-oriented.
Hey, maybe I was wrong. But at least I was never a hypocrite."

-michael turner


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