Soviets Face Financial, Political Problems in Space Program
MOSCOW (AP) _ As President Bush announced U.S. plans Thursday for a manned outpost on the moon and sending astronauts to Mars, the Soviet Union is trying to come to grips with financial and political problems in its space program.
The Soviets, like the Americans, have considered a manned mission to Mars and have laid the groundwork with long-duration space station missions designed to test whether cosmonauts could withstand a long journey to the planet.
But as Bush marked the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, Moscow is trying to decide whether it can afford expensive missions that once were routine. Those included the launches of the first satellite, Sputnik in 1957, and the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin in 1961.
Once touted as proof of the superiority of socialism, a source of national pride and a sacred cow, the Soviet space program has now been criticized under President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s policy of ″glasnost,″ or openness.
With chronic shortages of everything from toothpaste to housing, Soviets are wondering whether the $2.38 billion spent on the manned space program since 1986 is worthwhile.
Already, Soviet legislators looking for ways to cut a $162 billion budget deficit have suggested slashing space spending.
In part for economic reasons, the orbital platform Mir - the showcase of the Soviet space program designed as the first building block of a permanently manned space station - has been without a crew since April. Cosmonauts are not scheduled to re-enter the station until late August.
Adding fuel to the controversy were the November launch of the space shuttle Buran, whose development cost $10 billion; the loss in September and March of two unmanned Mars probes, Phobos I and II, at a cost of a half- billion dollars; and embarrassing delays caused by technical problems and human error in the landings of two crews from Mir last year.
Opposition also grew when Soviet space officials hungry for foreign currency chose a Japanese TV reporter, and not a Soviet who could only pay rubles, for the first commercial trip to Mir.
After 15 free flights with international crews, the Soviets are starting to charge foreign crews that want to travel to Mir, at a cost of $10 million to $12 million a shot.
The Soviet space agency Glavkomos also is seeking foreign customers for satellite launching and hopes to sell crystals grown in Mir’s zero-gravity for use in electronics. It also hopes to sell medicines manufactured on the space station.
The Japanese mission and a flight by an Austrian cosmonaut are scheduled for 1990 or 1991. In an entirely privately financed trip, the first Briton in space is to accompany two cosmonats to Mir in 1991.
As for the Buran, officials have not announced when it will fly again.
State TV’s nightly news program ″Vremya″ marked the Apollo 11 anniversary with a report repeating the traditional Soviet charge that the United States is militarizing space.
Correspondent Boris Kolyagin reported from Washington that the United States had considered setting up a base on the moon before but that ″gradually other space programs, plans for ‘Star Wars,’ pushed out the peaceful beginnings.″
The report featured interviews with the three Apollo 11 astronauts but did not mention Bush’s speech, which drew only a brief mention by the Tass news agency.
Earlier in the day, Soviet TV broadcast a lenghty documentary on the Apollo 11 mission, showing its viewers for the first time some of the footage from the historic July 20, 1969, moon landing.