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Space Science

The Incredible Shrinking Cosmonaut Corps 81

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the not-what-they-used-to-be dept.
jonerik writes "Space.com (via MSNBC) has this article about the declining prestige — and size — of Russia's cosmonaut corps in these post-Soviet years of wild 'n' woolly Russian capitalism. Where at one time the mighty Soviet space program could count on thousands of applicants offering their services as cosmonauts, today the vast majority of young Russian civilians prefer more lucrative private sector careers, though recruitment among Russian Air Force pilots is still good since the pay is higher in the cosmonaut corps. Russia currently has a total of 37 active cosmonauts in three units, and though these numbers are considered sufficient, there would be fewer available reserves if the ISS crew expands to six, as had been originally intended. 'In the 1960s one would dream of becoming a cosmonaut, now the young men are dreaming of becoming bankers,' says Sergei Shamsutdinov, an editor at the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine. 'The romantic aspect of the manned space exploration is no longer there; it has been replaced by gray daily routine.'"
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The Incredible Shrinking Cosmonaut Corps

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  • by Channard (693317) on Saturday November 25, 2006 @01:44PM (#16984976) Journal
    Well, not personally, but given that they're just talking about tooling around in space, what's the attraction of that? Now, if they were to actually try and get a man on Mars, you'd have no shortage of applicants.
    • Exactly. Who wants to sit around in a space station for a year, with little entertainment and 24x7 responsibility, to conduct experiments? Astronauts used to have the prestige of being explorers, today they are viewed as scientists that must work more hours, for less pay, little prestige, all while putting their bodies through unbelievable stresses, and risking their lives in the process. If you saw those characteristics on a job posting, would you apply?

      If there was a good chance of going to space wh
      • by cayenne8 (626475)
        "Exactly. Who wants to sit around in a space station for a year, with little entertainment and 24x7 responsibility, to conduct experiments?"

        Not to mention that tough 1-2 years curriculum at cosmetology school!!

        It must be tough to handle the weightlessness....

        :-)

      • Who wants to sit around in a space station for a year, with little entertainment and 24x7 responsibility, to conduct experiments? Astronauts used to have the prestige of being explorers, today they are viewed as scientists that must work more hours, for less pay, little prestige, all while putting their bodies through unbelievable stresses, and risking their lives in the process.

        Well, I would do it, particularly if I was interested in the research being conducted. But I've never seen any scientific resu

    • by reporter (666905) on Saturday November 25, 2006 @02:38PM (#16985354) Homepage
      The Russians are slowly modernizing their government and their economy. At this stage of economic development, there is little resources for government projects that most rich nations can afford. Consider Japan. Before 1977, the Japanese made little progress on space projects. Most of the national budget funded the development of infrastructure to support the economy.

      There is no reason to lament the fact that most Russians prefer to be bankers instead of cosmonauts. Russia is simply not at the right economic stage to splurge on space programs. During the Cold War, the Russians spent heavily on space projects, but that situation is due to government intervention (in the economy) against the will of the people. That intervention wrecked the economy.

      When Russia becomes rich like the rest of the West, then the Russians will return to space. Given the the incredible accomplishments of Russian mathematicians, I expect that a Russian genius will decipher and advance the work of Burkhard Heim [newscientist.com]. In so doing, he shall develop the first working prototype of a warp drive. (The Americans have already developed phasers [slashdot.org], which can be deployed on a jet fighter. Are the Japanese working on shields?)

      However, that is just an illusion for now. Right now, we must concentrate on steering Russia towards developing a true democracy and a real economy not based solely on commodities. The current pathetic state of Russia is partially due to the shenanigans of the Harvard elite [thenation.com].

      • by udderly (890305) *
        Right now, we must concentrate on steering Russia towards developing a true democracy...

        Especially one where people are no longer being assassinated [cdi.org], poisoned [thesun.co.uk], "disappeared [interactivist.net]" or otherwise shut down [hrw.org]. Is there any country on the planet that is become more free and its citizens getting more rights?
        • Yes, but the positive side of all this is that it's never been a better time to be a Russian researching exotic poisons and poison delivery systems!

          Seriously, it's pretty hard to believe that Russian intelligence didn't have a hand in the recent poisoning of Litvinenko. The KGB has a long history of tracking down and silencing dissenters. Plus the Russians have a fetish for James Bond-esque plots involving bizarre poisons. There was Georgi Markov, offed with a ricin-laced BB fired from an umbrella. There w

      • Well, Russia is the worlds largest nation and has the largest natural resources of any nation. With less than 120 million people they are well on their way to wealth. Living next door to Russia it is quite obvious they are both rich [englishrussia.com] and poor - and what nation does not have both groups of people? It is all about the distribution of course - just like in the US.

        Russia ended 2005 with its seventh straight year of growth. Strong oil export earnings have allowed Russia to increase its foreign reserves from only
      • I agree with you. Any scientific or technological development in a foreign country is a threat to the United States.

        Conveniently you overlook the fact that your own space program (in case you are for its continuation and not against) still needs a strong competition in order to secure funding to move along. Where would it be today without the chilling news in 1950s and 1960s of Russians getting ahead of the U.S. in space?
    • I agree, just wandering out in space ain't that fun.... haven't tried tit myself, but would be good to be aiming somewhere than just being in a gravity free zone.
    • Well, not personally, but given that they're just talking about tooling around in space, what's the attraction of that?

      Welcome to the real world of science and engineering - where only .01% of the job is glory and glamour, and the remainder is dully gray workaday.
  • Because... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SRA8 (859587) on Saturday November 25, 2006 @01:50PM (#16984998)
    I am similarly a sellout. As a child, I wanted to be a physicist -- like Newton. Then I realized that my fate (PhD) would be in the hands of a person I dont necessarily trust for 8 years. After that, i would not be able to afford decent housing or much of anything (unless I made it to the top 5% of my field.) Keep im mind its not just my own fate, but also of my wife and kids. Becoming a banker, programmer, consultant, whatever, was a decision to *not* save the world, but rather be able to find a job quickly whenever I needed and not have to worry about housing, childrens' wellbeing, etc. Housing is the key issue. I think if it wasnt for the exorbitant cost of housing, many more careers would be open to people who truly want them. With housing in the mix though, you spend every penny of your earnings trying to pay off your house and have little time to really contribute to society.
    • Your post indicates that high housing costs are preventing people from pursuing careers they really want. Let's say we all put you in charge of lowering the cost of housing. What would you do?
      • by khallow (566160)
        I have partial answers. First, tax real estate (and perhaps other forms of wealth), use that revenue to offset reductions in income tax. Second, restrict real estate loans. Third, encourage telecommuting (via tax deductions for employees that spend significant time from at home). And fourth, privatize passenger trains and complete the privitization of airlines by allowing various airlines to go bankrupt or merge.
        • Wealth = nest egg for retirement. This plan creates a disincentive to save, and taxes my ability to retire. Furthermore, it taxes the wealth I conscientiously saved out of my previous AFTER-TAX dollars.
          • by khallow (566160)

            Wealth = nest egg for retirement. This plan creates a disincentive to save, and taxes my ability to retire. Furthermore, it taxes the wealth I conscientiously saved out of my previous AFTER-TAX dollars.

            OTOH, your nest egg probably makes up a very small fraction of the tens of trillions of dollars of real estate in the US. Or the tens of trillions of dollars in equity. Besides it aligns government interests with your interests. Currently, government has strong incentive to encourage consumerism. Earn lot

        • What do you mean by 'restrict real estate loans'?
          • by SRA8 (859587)
            They likely mean -- restrict the near-fraudlent types of loans in the market now. While everyone should have access to money, people shouldnt have access to money they cannot ever pay back. Option ARMs come to mind. You can now purchase a million dollar home with a 40k/yr salary. Unless you are one of the rare people who have salaries increasing by 40 to 50% a year, these loans almost by rule will put a borrower in default sooner or later. Yet widespread sales of these loans have allowed the housing ma
            • I have no problem with 2 free entities, in this case the borrower and the lender, entering into a voluntary agreement. Given today's laws on disclosure of terms, borrowers know they are gambling and as a free man in a free and open society I don't have a problem with that.
              • by khallow (566160)
                The problem is that the bank is gambling with Other Peoples' Money and the people making the loan decisions often get paid for how many loans they make, not whether those loans were good for the bank. I suppose it's a healthier attitude that the people who put savings into that bank should know the status of the bank's loans and incentives for their loan officers, but the US government has taken over that role. I think it's pointless to look at it from a heavily libertarian viewpoint since government regula
          • by khallow (566160)
            Ie, restrict duration of the loan and reduce the amount that a bank can loan based on a family's salary. I recognize that libertarian notions are better here, but the US government has coopted various watchdog roles that usually would be done by the bank and the people who hold deposits in that bank.
      • Personally, I'd build more tiny apartments. As a college student, I'd be happy to live in a glorified closet if it was cheap, close to campus, and I didn't have to share it with anyone. Unfortunately, such a thing doesn't exist (mostly because I live in Atlanta rather than Tokyo).

        • Okay, so now you are in charge. How will you finance the construction of tiny apartments? How will you convince the property owners that their land should be use for tiny apartments?
          • The premise of being "in charge" implies that I'd have the power to carry out my plans. The problems you mention only apply in reality, where I'm not in charge. ; )

    • Your wages are roughly a measure of how valuable the rest of us find your work, with some averages and guesses of future output thrown in. Housing costs big money because PEOPLE build them (for wages... gasp!), and the best land gets sold by its property owner to the highest bidder (the nerve!!). If housing were priced below market value (i.e. if I were stealing land from landowners and labor from laborers), then, yeah, I'd be freed from necessary drudgery to pursue my dream job... in my case, undercover ma
      • >market value

        It's not "market value" if the buyers are being subsidized. Not only does the mortgage interest deduction push up demand, it most rewards the richest buyers.
        • No, the richest buyers exceed the $1 million mortgage cap on interest deduction, and are most likely to have to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax anyway.

          You make an interesting point about how subsidies (to make housing affordable) can make housing expensive (by pushing up demand). Not sure what to make of it... if that was your point.
  • I'd be less than apt to sign up, too. If NASA has problems with shuttles exploding on launch, who's to say Russia will fare better with its program? Sorry, as nice as the "final frontier" might be, I'm not keen on the idea of being vaporized just trying to get there.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by peragrin (659227)
      Just to set the record some what straight, both NASA and Russia have less than a 4% fatality rate among manned missions. You are more likely to be hurt in a car accident than an astronaut is going to be killed while on a mission.

      so are you going to stop driving cars now? As the Allstate commercial says there is a car accident every few seconds in just the USA.
      • Even if your figures are right I'd still jump at the chance to go into space, but quoting a fatality rate of less than one in twenty isn't going to comfort anyone. There are probably wars with lower death rates than that.
        • Err... one in twenty five. Okay, so I'd fail the cosmonaut math test so the dying bit isn't even an issue :(
      • by at_18 (224304)
        Just to set the record some what straight, both NASA and Russia have less than a 4% fatality rate among manned missions. You are more likely to be hurt in a car accident than an astronaut is going to be killed while on a mission.

        You are kidding right? A 4% fatality rate in cars means that, driving your average work commute, you'll be killed after a mere three weeks! Space flight is still *extremely* dangerous compared to anything else.
      • Just to set the record some what straight, both NASA and Russia have less than a 4% fatality rate among manned missions. You are more likely to be hurt in a car accident than an astronaut is going to be killed while on a mission.

        You can't possibly be serious, can you? I wanted to refute your statements with some actual statistics from the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, but then I realized that you obviously haven't even mastered common sense, so it's unlikely that actual statistics would get th
      • by drsquare (530038)
        4% of people who drive cars don't die in accidents.
    • by jonerik (308303) on Saturday November 25, 2006 @02:36PM (#16985330)
      The USSR/Russia has had a phenomenally safe manned spaceflight record. The last (known) fatalities occurred in 1971 on the Soyuz 11 mission. 35 years of fatality-free manned spaceflight is nothing to sneeze at.
      • by jedrek (79264)
        Didn't two shuttles blow up in the past 20-some years?
        • by jonerik (308303)
          My response was regarding the Soviet/Russian manned space system. As for the shuttles, they've actually performed quite well in space. The problem hasn't been with the shuttles themselves, but with the way they're launched into space.
  • Even if I was offered to become a first man to set foot on Mars, I would refuse. I don't understand the attraction. It is the same as when the USA decades ago sent some men to the Moon just for propaganda purposes. Mars is just a barren place and nothing interesting to see their. All the science can be done 10 times better and cheaper by remote technology. So, although for humans reaching the space was great achievement, it is time to also acknowledge that it is not a place for humans yet.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Lord Kano (13027)
      Even if I was offered to become a first man to set foot on Mars, I would refuse. I don't understand the attraction.

      Have you ever been the first one to make love to a virgin?

      It's kind of the same thing. Even though it's not quite ready for prime time, it's nice to be the first one there. Everyone else that comes after you gets to see all of your footprints from when the landscape was pristine.

      Sure, I wouldn't mind taking a lunar or martian vacation and staying at the holiday inn, but I'd rather get there bef
      • Have you ever been the first one to make love to a virgin?
        Make love?! I think you're in the wrong place..
    • by johansalk (818687)
      Before I go anywhere I want to know about the toilette facilities.
    • by Flentil (765056)
      I think it's about immortality and making a permanent mark on history. Do you know who was the first man to set foot on the moon? Do you think your great grandkids will also know the name? If humanity goes on for 10,000 more years expanding to hundreds of other solar systems, the name will still be remembered.
    • Even if I was offered to become a first man to set foot on Mars, I would refuse. I don't understand the attraction.

      And that's OK. Other people would jump at the chance. Like me.

      Some people don't understand the attraction of roller coasters. Others do. To each his own.
  • I'm pretty sure that openSUSE people would gladly pay a one way trip for him.
    http://lists.opensuse.org/opensuse/2006-11/msg03 765.html
  • OK, so people are willing to pay $20 Million to participate in one flight, and the Russians are having problems getting people to participate for free/for small pay? The problem is probably not lack of interest. There's something else going on here.... They could be being too selective, they could not really be accepting anyone into the program, maybe the problem is they only take Russian's and ex-Soviet's. Then again, maybe a lot of people can't deal with leaving their fate for 10 years left up to a bu
    • by imsabbel (611519)
      People pay for a JOYRIDE.
      The have a hard time finding people who are

      a) highly qualified to do actual work
      b) physically in top shape
      c) willingto put up with low pay
  • ironic (Score:4, Funny)

    by macadamia_harold (947445) on Saturday November 25, 2006 @02:06PM (#16985098) Homepage
    In the 1960s one would dream of becoming a cosmonaut, now the young men are dreaming of becoming bankers,' says Sergei Shamsutdinov, an editor at the Novosti Kosmonavtiki magazine.

    And here in America, we have bankers that dream of going up with Russian Cosmonauts.
  • by bogaboga (793279)
    ...that though these numbers appear to be shrinking, the US will still be relying on Russian technology when it comes to space. This should not be a surprise because even in these United States, there is change all over the place. Sadly, this change is not all positive. Who has not heard about corruption, incompetence and cronyism at NASA?

    Let's remember too that Russia still possesses and is still capable of developing some of the most deadly weapon systems known to man. Just look at what the US says when

    • the US will still be relying on Russian technology when it comes to space.

      Only because it is cheap and convenient to do so. There is nothing supplied by the Russians which the US could not develop if the need was there. And they would do a better job to, at 10 times the price.

  • In Soviet Russia cosmonaut becomes you!
  • by istartedi (132515) on Saturday November 25, 2006 @03:02PM (#16985486) Journal

    This is a bit of an answer to the question "Why go to the Moon, Mars, or an Asteroid?". I bet more candidates would get excited about something like that. Either they need to inspire these guys, or offer them more pay to twirl around in LEO tightening bolts and tending experiments. It might be more economical in the short run simply to offer more pay. In the long run, a partnership with other spacefaring nations to further exploration is probably the best thing for the long-term health of the program.

    • by LindseyJ (983603)
      A partnership between all spacefaring nations is probably the best thing for the long-term health of space exploration as a whole.
  • Did anybody else read that as "The Incredible Shrinking Cosmonaut Corpse?" In soviet russia...
  • Since in Soviet Russia, astronauts become people.
  • by kitzilla (266382) <paperfrog@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Saturday November 25, 2006 @11:26PM (#16989190) Homepage Journal

    Can't find enough Russian nationals to stock your space program? I'll go. Send me a Berlitz Russian language course, and we can get started right away. Mars, ISS, the moon -- whatever. Better to be a poor astro ... oops ... cosmonaut than a rich investment banker, I'm sure.

    I'll even bring friends. Plenty of bodies to run your program into the next decade.

    Star City, here we come.

    • why NOT advertise on geek sites like /.? there are enough of us here who pretty much wanted to go into space as soon as they heard it was a job opportunity. even i am willing to drag my sorry ass off the couch and start training if there was even a 0.001 chance that i would get chosen. and i really don't care where i go, ISS, moon, mars.. one way or return ticket. cover my food and lodging (and broadband) and you don't even need to pay me.
  • I've just come back from Korolev (aka Space City) as a paying guest of Energia Corporation. I was there with some 17-18 year olds for the "Space Olympics", an annual international event where the Russians are trying very hard to enthuse the next generation about Space Exploration in general. At the same time, they are making shed-loads of money out of their "guests": very New Russia.

    Having met five cosmonauts (4 active; 1 retired) on this trip, it's my impression that they are all still struggling to some

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