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60 years after Sputnik, Russian space program faces troubles

  • FILE- In this file photo taken on Thursday, April 28, 2016, A Russian Soyuz 2.1a rocket carrying Lomonosov, Aist-2D and SamSat-218 satellites lifts off from the launch pad at the new Vostochny Cosmodrome outside the city of Uglegorsk, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the city of Blagoveshchensk in the far eastern Amur region, Russia. Six decades after Sputnik opened the space era, Russia has struggled to build up on its Soviet-era space achievements and space research now ranks very low among the Kremlin's priorities. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool Photo via AP, File) KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV

  • FILE - In this file undated photo, Soviet cosmonaut Major Yuri Gagarin, first man to orbit the earth, is shown in his space suit in this undated photo. On the 12th April 1961, the Russian cosmonaut became the first man in space when he orbited the Earth once during a 108 minute flight. Six decades after Sputnik opened the space era, Russia has struggled to build up on its Soviet-era space achievements and space research now ranks very low among the Kremlin's priorities. (AP Photo, File)

  • FILE -In this file photo taken on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, The Proton-M rocket booster blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Six decades after Sputnik opened the space era, Russia has struggled to build up on its Soviet-era space achievements and space research now ranks very low among the Kremlin's priorities. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File) Dmitri Lovetsky

  • FILE- In this file photo taken on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, Russia's Soyuz-FG booster rocket with the Soyuz MS-06 space ship that will carry new crew to the International Space Station (ISS) being raised at the launch pad at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Six decades after Sputnik opened the space era, Russia has struggled to build up on its Soviet-era space achievements and space research now ranks very low among the Kremlin's priorities. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, file) Dmitri Lovetsky

  • FILE In this file photo taken on Saturday, April 2, 2011, the scene as service towers lift to the Russian Soyuz TMA-21 space ship that will carry new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, at the launch pad in Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Six decades after Sputnik opened the space era, Russia has struggled to build up on its Soviet-era space achievements and space research now ranks very low among the Kremlin's priorities.(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File) Dmitry Lovetsky

  • FILE - In this file photo taken on Friday, April 11, 2014, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, foreground left, looks at exhibits as he visits the Cosmonautics Memorial Museum in Moscow, Russia. Six decades after Sputnik opened the space era, Russia has struggled to build up on its Soviet-era space achievements and space research now ranks very low among the Kremlin's priorities. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File) Alexei Nikolsky

  • FILE- In this file photo taken on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-06 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Six decades after Sputnik opened the space era, Russia has struggled to build up on its Soviet-era space achievements and space research now ranks very low among the Kremlin's priorities. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File) Dmitri Lovetsky

  • A life-size mock-up of the First Earth Sputnik is on display at the Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The launch of Sputnik 60 years ago opened the space era and became a major triumph for the Soviet Union, showcasing its military might and technological edge. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) Alexander Zemlianichenko



Associated Press
Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Six decades after Sputnik, a refined version of the rocket that put the first artificial satellite in orbit remains the mainstay of Russia’s space program – a stunning tribute to the country’s technological prowess, but also a sign it has failed to build upon its achievements.

And unlike the Cold War era, when space was a key area of the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, space research now appears to rank low on the Kremlin’s priorities.

The Soyuz booster, currently the only vehicle that launches crews to the International Space Station, is a modification of the R-7 rocket that put Sputnik in orbit on Oct. 4, 1957.

Another Soviet-designed workhorse, the heavy-lift Proton rocket that has been used to launch commercial satellites to high orbits, was developed in the 1960s.

Both rockets established a stellar reputation for their reliability, but their record was tarnished by a string of failed launches in recent years that have called into question the Russian space industry’s ability to maintain the same high standards of manufacturing.

Russia also has struggled for years to build its own scientific module for the International Space Station. Originally set for 2007, the launch of the Nauka, or Science, module has been pushed back repeatedly. A 2013 check revealed that its systems had become clogged with residue and required a costly cleaning. The launch is now tentatively set for next year.