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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 17:37 GMT 18:37 UK
Russia's space dreams abandoned
Proton K rocket booster launches off from the Baikonur complex in Kazakhstan, AP
The site is used to launch rockets to the ISS
test hello test
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor
line
It is as yet unclear if the collapse of the top section of building 112 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome was due to a freak accident or was the result of poor maintenance.

Whatever the cause, the collapse of the giant hangar housing a version of the Buran space shuttle comes after Russia has abandoned its great space dreams of the past and is putting its money into other areas of research - those that make it money.

And after years of cutbacks, cancelled projects and job losses, there are signs that the Russian space industry is bouncing back.

The industry has gone through an extraordinarily bad time in the past decade, after the fall of communism. In retrospect, its decline can be traced back to the late 1970s when, having lost the race to the Moon a decade earlier, the Soviet authorities effectively abandoned space.

But because the space budget was entrenched, several large projects that were under way continued. However, they lacked coherence and political will.

In 1986, the Soviets launched the Mir space station, but it was no great improvement from the Salyut series of space stations it superseded.

Over the next 15 years Soviet, then Russian, engineers managed to get the most out of Mir but it eventually became a full time job just keeping it working in space. When the space shuttle started docking with it, leaving Americans on board, many Russians felt eclipsed.

They felt even worse in 2001 when they had to watch Mir crash to Earth for want of a few tens of millions of dollars to keep it going.

Costly and cumbersome

A dose of reality had not set in when the Soviets launched the Energia super rocket and the Buran space shuttle in the late 1980s.

It was clear that these were too costly, cumbersome and, perhaps more importantly, they lacked a role in the Russian space effort. They were relics of the past and flew only once.

And now Buran's hanger, with a model of the ill-fated space shuttle inside it, has collapsed killing several workers. The result of neglect, it is being reported.

But despite this, there are signs that things are improving as the Russian space industry learns to get money for itself and not live off government hand-outs.

In 2000, the Russian Government gave the industry a paltry $160m. The industry itself managed to raise more than $800m from overseas customers.

And in doing so started to halt the long decline since the fall of communism. In 2000, it sent up 34 out of the world's 79 rockets launched that year. Not as much as it used to, but not bad.

The emphasis is now on commercial launches and the relics of the dreams of the past, the Buran space shuttle and the Energia superbooster, have been left to rust.

See also:

13 May 02 | Europe
Inside the Baikonur cosmodrome
12 May 02 | Europe
World's largest launch facility
25 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Space tourist lifts off
28 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
Crash prompts Russian rocket ban
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