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60 Years After First Satellite, Russian Space Program Faces Struggles

2017-10-09

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[00:00.00]
  • Russia’s space program faces hard questions as it marks the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite.
  • [00:12.81]
  • Some experts are wondering how Russia’s aging rocket designs will compete with new, less costly rockets.
  • [00:23.79]
  • Sixty years ago, the area known as the Soviet Union was in a fierce competition with the United States to reach beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
  • [00:36.73]
  • Tensions between the world’s biggest nuclear powers, the United States and the U.S.S.R., were high.
  • [00:46.82]
  • The Cold War between the two competing sides, which began after the end of World War II, was intensifying.
  • [00:57.55]
  • Then, on October 4, 1957, news broke that the Soviets had placed the first artificial satellite into orbit.
  • [01:11.56]
  • Called Sputnik, the satellite was a small sphere, 58 centimeters wide and about 84 kilograms in weight.
  • [01:24.33]
  • It contained two radio transmitters that sent out a beep that could be received by radio operators on Earth.
  • [01:35.11]
  • The satellite was tiny. Yet, it started the extremely costly competition known as the Space Race.
  • [01:46.25]
  • The race would end with the Americans’ Apollo Moon landings in 1969.
  • [01:54.57]
  • In October of 1957, however, many people in the West were shocked.
  • [02:02.45]
  • The Soviets had put an object in Earth’s orbit, and they had done it before the West.
  • [02:10.63]
  • Soviet media said it was because the socialist political system of the U.S.S.R. was better.
  • [02:19.63]
  • In the U.S., lawmakers placed an urgent importance on science education in an effort to “catch up” with the Soviets.
  • [02:32.27]
  • The project to launch the first satellite into space was a product of the Soviet’s development of their first long-distance missile, the R-7.
  • [02:45.77]
  • It was designed as an intercontinental ballistic missile meant to strike the U.S. with a nuclear warhead.
  • [02:55.15]
  • Sergei Korolyov led a team that was building the rocket.
  • [03:02.25]
  • He had the idea to place a simple satellite on the rocket.
  • [03:08.33]
  • The Soviets were already planning a satellite that would carry scientific instruments.
  • [03:17.09]
  • But Korolyov pushed for a basic satellite design that could be put into space quickly -- before the U.S. could attempt a launch.
  • [03:29.62]
  • The designers considered a cone shape for Sputnik, but Korolyov insisted on a sphere.
  • [03:39.72]
  • He is quoted as saying, “The Earth is a sphere, and its first satellite also must have a spherical shape.”
  • [03:50.07]
  • A main part of Russia’s Soyuz space capsules that are still in use today also is spherical.
  • [04:00.29]
  • Although the Soviet Union came apart in 1991, the Russian Federation remains very important in the space industry.
  • [04:12.93]
  • But, observers point out that the Soyuz rocket boosters Russia uses to carry people and supplies to the International Space Station are very old.
  • [04:26.34]
  • The Soyuz rockets are modified versions of the S-7 that carried Sputnik into space.
  • [04:36.34]
  • Another rocket used by Russia, the Proton, was designed in the 1960s.
  • [04:44.95]
  • These rockets have earned a reputation for reliability over many years of service.
  • [04:52.96]
  • But recent launch problems have raised questions about the quality of parts manufactured for the vehicles.
  • [05:03.94]
  • Officials found problems with the Soyuz and Proton rockets in 2016 at a factory in the city of Voronezh in western Russia, where the engines for both rockets are built.
  • [05:21.09]
  • Russia’s space agency sent 70 rocket engines back to the production lines to replace problem parts, the Associated News agency said.
  • [05:33.61]
  • These issues led to a one-year suspension of Proton launches.
  • [05:41.18]
  • That suspension caused Russia to fall behind both the U.S. and China for commercial satellite launches in 2016.
  • [05:53.76]
  • Russia had led the world for more than 10 years before that.
  • [05:59.66]
  • Russia’s space agency Roscosmos also decided on cost cutting measures.
  • [06:06.99]
  • It cut Russian International Space Station crews.
  • [06:12.14]
  • The AP reports that two cosmonauts instead of three are to be used.
  • [06:19.36]
  • Cosmonaut is the Russian term for astronaut.
  • [06:25.14]
  • Many people in Russia have criticized the cuts.
  • [06:31.15]
  • However, Russia has spent huge amounts of money on a second space launch center in the far east of the country near Vostochny.
  • [06:43.81]
  • The new spaceport is meant to offer an alternative to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where Russia launches almost all its rockets.
  • [06:57.04]
  • Despite the money put into the new center, work in Vostochny has been slowed by workers’ protests over pay and the arrest of construction officials accused of corruption.
  • [07:12.63]
  • And people with ties to the space program have criticized the spending on Vostochny at the expense of other priorities.
  • [07:24.22]
  • For example, Maksim Surayev was a cosmonaut who is now a lawmaker.
  • [07:31.95]
  • He criticized the low pay of workers at the cosmonaut training center near Moscow known as Star City.
  • [07:41.64]
  • “It’s wrong when, instead of fulfilling their task to prepare for space flight, they have to find side jobs and a place to live,” Surayev told Parliament.
  • [07:55.71]
  • In addition to budget and manufacturing problems, the Russian space program has seen some projects postponed.
  • [08:06.61]
  • For instance, space agency officials had hoped to launch the Russian module for the I.S.S. in 2007.
  • [08:17.78]
  • But the module has been delayed for many years.
  • [08:21.51]
  • The launch is now planned for next year, but some reports say another delay is possible.
  • [08:31.43]
  • Yet, Russia’s space presence with its 60-year history continues -- dating back to that first launch that shocked the West.
  • [08:43.05]
  • On October 4 this year, AP said that Sergei Ryanzanskiy posted on Twitter a picture of himself holding a small model of the Sputnik satellite.
  • [08:58.08]
  • Ryanzanskiy is currently a cosmonaut on the International Space Station.
  • [09:06.01]
  • He was marking the 60th anniversary of the historic launch.
  • [09:12.10]
  • Ryanzanskiy had a special reason to note the event.
  • [09:18.12]
  • His grandfather was the chief designer of radio guidance systems for space vehicles during the Soviet era.
  • [09:28.00]
  • And he was involved in the Sputnik launch.
  • [09:32.46]
  • In August, Ryazanskiy helped release five very small satellites that were manufactured by a 3-D printer.
  • [09:44.05]
  • One of the hand-held satellites honored Sputnik’s 60th anniversary.
  • [09:51.69]
  • I’m Mario Ritter.
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