There is a nasty, increasingly public battle that has engulfed a handful of former cosmonauts, a robot and the current leader of the Russian space program, Dmitry Rogozin, in controversy.
The genesis of the controversy appears to be that some former cosmonauts have begun to speak out against Rogozin̵
The most outspoken critic of Rogozin and the Russian space program was Maxim Suraev, a Russian fighter pilot who served six months on the International Space Station in 2010 and 2014. After retiring from the cosmonaut corps, Suraev was elected to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian assembly.
For reasons not entirely clear, Suraev’s criticism of the state of the Russian space program has intensified in recent weeks. For example, a week ago he tweeted an image comparing the interior of the Russian Soyuz vehicle to that of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, developed for NASA, with the caption: “Needless to say, you can see for yourself.”
Слов нет, всё видите сами. pic.twitter.com/EYjDTe5LeP
– Макс Сураев (@Msuraev) 7 October 2020
Suraev also has tweeted a short video clip Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, said, “The springboard works,” following the successful launch of the Demo-2 mission on the International Space Station in late May. This was a mocking reference to Rogozin’s 2014 insult to NASA after being sanctioned by the Obama administration following the invasion of Crimea. Rogozin said NASA could arrive in space on a diving board if it didn’t want to work with the Russian space program.
In another notable shot on Twitter, Suraev “apologized” to Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human to go to space, as he shared a short video from NASA testing the solid rocket for his Space Launch System rocket. The implication was that NASA’s space program is moving forward, while Roscosmos is stuck in the past.
Rogozin had a Twitter account, which was quite colorful and quite spiteful at times, but he deleted it earlier this year for unknown reasons. (It seems plausible that senior government officials told him to stop.) However, after Suraev’s criticism, Rogozin may have used the Twitter account of “Fedor”, a robot sent to the International Space Station in 2019, to respond.
This Twitter account was also deleted this weekend. But before the account was deleted or banned from the social networking site, “Fedor” attacked Suraev and another astronaut he flew with, Alexander Samokutyayev, for being drunk on board the space station. (See screenshot of translated tweets). These tweets are consistent with how Rogozin used the social networking site.
Samokutyayev, also a member of the Duma since retiring as a cosmonaut, responded on Monday, saying he was “outraged” by the allegations and that he and Suraev would investigate their origins. Rogozin denied having anything to do with Fedor’s Twitter account, but also said maybe the robot was actually tweeting himself.
If that doesn’t make much sense, welcome to the Russian space industry under Rogozin’s leadership. Independent Russian space analysts warn that the program is slipping into the “Middle Ages” under mismanagement, and Rogozin has been accused of getting rich at Roscosmos’s expense. The global space industry would be better off with a better-managed Russian space program.