Something like that, but toned down by civilized ways, is taking place in astronautics. It has its own "disturbances" and its own small "explosions". Today, with new players emerging on the scene, it is futile to hope for peace and quiet in their relations.
But 15 years ago everything was simple and straightforward. There were two great space powers which competed with varying degrees of success in the political, military and cosmic realms. But the last few years have shown that two more participants are not only claiming a place in the sun, but are earnestly challenging the previous two. These new participants are, of course, Europe and China.
This raises the question: Why do they want to pursue separate programs in near-Earth space? There are no keen contradictions in politics and defense, say, between the United States and the European Union. Gone is the irreconcilability of Russian, American and Chinese interests.
The point is that unlike in previous decades, astronautics has turned from something extraordinary and celestial into a down-to-earth aspect of everyday life. Present-day defense doctrines and an ordinary telephone call both depend on the degree of development of national astronautics or on the ability to hire space services.
The leading world powers each prefer to implement their own programs for exploring and utilizing near-Earth and deep space. The more diversified a state's utilization of astronautics, the greater the economic dividends it ultimately gets by way of high-technology products and information. In moral and political terms, its international prestige is strengthened, and its citizens become more public-minded and confident in their government.
These are the objective benefits. Other possibilities for space powers include manned flights to near-Earth space, distant interplanetary missions, large satellite formations for military and civilian use, all kinds of research projects, a ramified ground infrastructure, etc.
In fact, it is the number of possibilities available that drives space relations nowadays. So who are the declared players?
Let us begin with the East. Specialists both in Europe and the U.S. estimate that a quarter of a million people work for the space effort in China, while the U.S., by its own admission, can afford only 75,000. Within the next few years China is going to bring the number of its working satellites to 100. It continues developing a heavy launch booster able to put up to 25 metric tons of payload into low orbits. In 2017, it is to launch a recoverable automatic lunar station, and ten years later the first Chinese astronaut will walk on the Moon. It appears China is determined to take advantage of all available opportunities. Will it succeed? It certainly will. With a feeling of pride from its own achievements multiplied by its specific national character and billions in investment, China, without looking right or left, will achieve all its ambitions.
The U.S. operates almost 500 satellites and has a large fleet of carrier rockets with a matching ground infrastructure. Its budget for next year is $16.8 billion, and the idea of doing everything or nearly everything on their own does not appear far-fetched to them.
Can these powers fail to take some interest in each other as far as space is concerned? They cannot, of course. But while China, offended because the U.S. excluded it from the ISS project, is overtly trying to ignore American programs and developments, NASA head Michael Griffin is planning a visit to Beijing in September. On the political level, some Congressmen, in particular Frank Wolf and Tom DeLay, have serious fears that China will soon overtake the U.S. in interplanetary research.
This leaves us with two remaining players. The Europeans, like China, are angry with the U.S. for practically shutting them out of the ISS program. So Europe's main objective today is to put its own astronauts into space. The implementation of its own Galileo space navigation program is of great importance. The U.S. and China are wrapped up in their own problems and in no way view space cooperation as a tool for achieving their ends. The result is clear: Europe is already seeking cooperation with Russia.
One more question, perhaps the last one for now: Is this good or bad for Russia? God forbid I doubt the advantages of international cooperation or the benefits of coordinating economic efforts. But still. What we see in Russia's space program does not always please us.
Despite increasingly generous financing for the industry, its resources are catastrophically short. This is one aspect of the matter. The other is an irresistible urge to pursue every available option. This is clearly impossible. There is also a growing temptation to borrow from the outside, which results in dependence on the giver.
An example is the Kliper program, a seemingly successful project carried out by the Energia space and rocket corporation. Though it required only one billion dollars, the money was never found. The program was overhauled. Now we are modernizing the outdated Soyuz rocket, with the European Space Agency agreeing to furnish the money, though perhaps not without its own interests in mind.
But the Kliper is nothing compared to the commercial development of helium deposits on the Moon. We cannot yet build our own reusable transport vehicle, but we freely indulge in talking about fantastic schemes to use the Moon, requiring an armada of transport ships. However, simply talking about this theme from many different podiums costs budget money.
If we continue to stick to the "we-are-great-because-we-talk-great" principle, everything will be divided and redivided without us. But there is a different approach. It is enough to take a sober view of things, and our priorities will sort themselves out. We have a big head start in boosters. Fine. Let us focus on them and corner 70-80%, not 40%, of the international market. Let us develop a rocket engine that will be sought after from every corner. A good example is the RD-180, which was supplied to the United States. True, this will call for a concrete, boring and prosaic effort, with no victories to chalk up.
But then no space recarving will frighten us.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.