The crew of the Soyuz-FG rocket re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere at the TMA-16 Baikonur Cosmodrome. Picture: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
Welcome to the latest edition of Space Oddity, a series about space issues and what it would be like to go where no one’s ever gone before. This week’s entry comes from the always-amazing SPACE.com blog, home of the SpaceTrails visualisation site, which features cutting-edge visualization technology that predicts dramatic impacts for the future of space-based technologies.
Why it’s in the lead today: Russia has just revealed the names of the first five cosmonauts who will fly on a Russian rocket to the International Space Station in November 2020. The five cosmonauts are: Roman Romanenko, Sergei Ryzhikov, Oleg Artemyev, Gennady Padalka, and Evgeny Tarelkin. The five Russian men chosen will join six other astronauts who already live aboard the space station.
The cosmonauts will be the first Russian crew to fly to the ISS since the last group, in January 2018. A Russian rocket carrying a Soyuz-FG rocket carrying both crew members and cargo to the ISS broke down on the eve of the flight and the cosmonauts had to fly to the ISS on the next available flight.
Given that the Russians returned to flight with a second Soyuz rocket failure in January, it’s a smart move by the government to screen the capsule to get the space agency’s fingers on the pulse of the next trajectory, to be launched in November 2020. But the upcoming trip has been a long time coming.
The choice of the five cosmonauts is rather bizarre given that it takes 6 years to prepare for such a mission, which puts Russian spaceflight at a big disadvantage in the current US economy. While the US Space Age often gets a lot of credit for technological advancements and world-shaking advances in the space industry, an important element to that historic space race was the staid Russian space program, built on vast government support, with a lot less budget than its American competitor.
Staunch ally? Not exactly. Since the end of the Soviet Union, and perhaps since Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in space back in 1961, the Russian space agency has faced isolation from its great regional ally, with both Russian military and civilian space programs overshadowed by US spending.
Nevertheless, Russia has undoubtedly been at the forefront of creating the space industry globally with Baikonur and Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the republic of Kazakhstan, and the use of Soyuz spacecraft since the mid-1990s. It also seems the country has slowly been feeling out more space-themed films as it edges closer to creating a new generation of cosmonauts. Even Russia’s National Space Development Agency has a history of marketing with movies like Russky: the Death of a Nation, which started out as an eye-catching sci-fi marketing campaign for Yuri Gagarin before it became a well-reviewed film.
Last year, Rassvet (Magnet) became Russia’s first film made in cooperation with Hollywood studios, with the story focusing on the a space programme across the ages. Earlier this month, cinemas across Russia screened The International, a well-reviewed spy thriller where the main space mission is to a space station in the year 2050. It’s the first Russian blockbuster to feature space travel. And as the Soyuz journey’s theme underscores, it’s also a way for the Russian government to show it can still take risks, despite recent difficulties in Mars-bound trips and other aspects of its space travel program.
Both projects have been made at a time when the European Space Agency has nearly doubled the funding for its own space travel program – and with 22 countries now getting involved in space development, time is of the essence for Russia to find a way to recapture the part of the market that’s fled to Europe and the US.
The image below is from Yuri Gagarin in 1960.