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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, West Must Share Space Risks

It is heart-breaking that years of effort and $300 million of investment into the Russian space program were lost over the weekend when a Russian mission to Mars misfired and crashed into the Pacific Ocean.


This represents a terrible a blow to space research and, in this case, to the quest to discover whether there was ever life on Mars. But the blow could also prove serious for Russia's once proud but now underfunded space industry.


More than the other countries involved in space research, Russia can ill afford to lose the $122 million it put in for the launch and research equipment. Its reputation in the world space community, which ploughed $180 million of its own money into the launch, could also suffer.


Questions will necessarily be asked about the future of Russia's space industry in light of the failed mission, but nothing should jeopardize its continuing place in the world space community.


The first questions will be the technical ones of what caused the launch to fail. Whatever the answers are, it would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that Russia's rocket industry is in any way inferior to its competitors. Other space powers have had low points as well as triumphs. The United States had its Challenger disaster and Europe was humiliated this year by the failure of its first launch of the Ariane V rocket.


But the Russian government should be asking some tough questions about how much of the huge cost of space research it can bear. During the Cold War, the space race was a sort of cosmic ideological competition in which the Soviet Union and the United States tried to prove their moral and technological superiority.


Russia must rethink whether it is still willing to invest so heavily in science for the sake of national pride. The head of Russia's space industry has already pointed to a refocusing of the space research program.


The West has a role to play in this regard since it makes both economic and scientific sense to help maintain Russia's scientific traditions in space.


Examples of the good fit between the Russian and Western space industries are growing all the time. Because of its experience in maintaining its existing Mir station, Russia has been handed the job of making the main module for an international project to launch a new generation Alpha space station. Russian rockets are now being used on a commercial basis to launch U.S. and European satellites. Russian technology is finding application in Western space rockets.


The West should continue this policy of integrating Russia more closely into its space plans. All countries can only gain by sharing out the risks of the adventure of space.