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Medvedev Says Country Should Continue Great Space Achievements

April 13, 2011

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday that the country must preserve its pre-eminence in space.

Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Schools had special lessons dedicated to Gagarin, billboards carried his smiling face, and national television channels broadcast a flow of movies and documentaries about the flight.

“We were the first to fly to space and have had a great number of achievements, and we mustn’t lose our advantage,” Medvedev said during a visit to Mission Control outside Moscow.

Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya said that Russia risks losing its edge in space research by relying solely on Soviet-era achievements and doing little to develop new space technologies.

Savitskaya, who flew space missions in 1982 and 1984 and became the first women to make a spacewalk, harshly criticized the Kremlin on Monday for paying little attention to space research after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

“There’s nothing new to be proud of in the last 20 years,” said Savitskaya, a member of Russian parliament from the Communist Party.

Russia used the Soyuz and Progress spacecraft to send an increasing number of crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).  NASA will start relying on Russia to travel on its Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS once its shuts down its shuttle program this summer.

Savitskaya and other cosmonauts warned that Russia has done little to build a replacement to the Soyuz and could quickly fall behind America after it builds a new-generation spaceship.

Boris Chertok, the former deputy to Sergei Korolyov, said that it has become increasingly difficult for Russia’s space industries to hire new personnel.

“Salaries in space industries are much lower than average salaries in banks and commercial companies,” Chertok, 99, told reporters last week. “We need (more) people of Korolyov’s caliber.”

Korolyov, the father of the Soviet space program, led the team that put the world’s first manmade satellite in orbit on October 4, 1957. 

“Our competition with America was spurring us to move faster to make the first human spaceflight,” Valery Kubasov, a member of Korolyov’s design team who later became a cosmonaut, told The Associated Press.

Gagarin’s flight shocked the U.S., prompting it to declare the goal of putting a man on the moon.

“Without Yuri Alexeyevich’s flight, I wouldn’t have flown to the moon,” said Thomas Stafford, commander of the Apollo 10 mission that approached within eight miles (13 kilometers) of the moon in May 1969.

“He was a great hero for the Soviet Union and the entire world,” Stafford said in Russian after receiving a medal from Medvedev at a Kremlin award ceremony that honored cosmonauts and astronauts.

Sergei Krikalyov said the main unknown before Gagarin’s flight was how a human body would respond to the conditions in outer space.

“The main tasks were to make sure that a cosmonaut could breathe and swallow in zero gravity,” Krikalyov, who now heads Russia’s Star City cosmonaut training center, told the AP. “It was not even certain that a man could eat and drink during weightlessness.”




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