“I will not allow sabotage, I’ll simply rip heads off” is never something you want your boss to say. Russia is in the process of building its first new cosmodrome — or rocket launch site — since the fall of the USSR. And it’s a mess.
For the past two decades, Russia’s used the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in current-day Kazakhstan, which dates back to the very earliest days of Russian space flight. But not only is that launch site ageing, it’s also a political bee in Russia’s bonnet.
So Russia is building a new cosmodrome thousands of kilometres east, where it will be able to operate without having to collaborate with Kazakhstan — plus perks like being closer to the ocean, which will make landings easier. The $US2.4 billion Vostochny Cosmodrome was started in 2011, and it’s supposed to be done in 2018. With the blessing of Putin and seemingly unlimited funds, what could go wrong? A lot, actually.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, second right, looks at a plan while visiting a site of a new launch facility, cosmodrome Vostochny. AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Pool
The project has been severely behind schedule for a number of reasons, including the incredible cold winter of eastern Siberia, material supply problems resulting from the site’s remote location, and workforce issues. Russian Space Web has a long rundown of the travails of Vostochny, including the fact that Russian students have been trucked in by the thousands to work on the construction:
In an unusual step, the Russian government organised 200-strong “winter student brigade” to provide low-skilled labour in Vostochny beginning on February 1, even though normally such groups would only be available during summer. Official press releases did not elaborate whether members of the brigade would have to skip a semester. As many as 1,200 students were promised in Vostochny during the summer of 2015, Roskosmos said.
Then there’s our old friend: wild, unchecked corruption by construction officials. Last year, the construction manager was arrested for embezzling millions of dollars from the project. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, was brought in to clean things up — he even installed publicly-accessible cameras at the sites to catch any “slacking” (you can watch right here).
But last week, Moscow Times reported that the project was in trouble again, saying that the project faced “having its electricity supply cut over unpaid bills.” That’s when Rogozin made his decapitation threat, saying, “I will not allow sabotage, I’ll simply rip heads off,” and adding that “those who try to steal the people’s money from the spaceport will be locked up. We will build this cosmodrome.” On Friday, yet another construction lead was fired from the project.
It really puts America’s paralysing red tape and hulking government bureaucracy into perspective, doesn’t it?
Picture: AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service, Pool