Tragic Space Shows of Plesetsk Cosmodrome
People’s wish to see something incredible is always strong, although it often leads to victims
PRAVDA.Ru has already reported about the problems that the cosmodrome Plesetsk causes to the residents of Russia’s North (the Pomorye region): mother missiles fall on their heads. Reporters even manage to take photographs of such moments (as it can be seen on the photo). In addition to the “physical danger” there is also a danger of chemical poisoning: poisonous remains of missile fuel contaminate the soil and reservoirs of the north-west of Russia’s Arkhangelsk region. Explosions of missiles take place on the cosmodrome at times too, taking military men’s lives. As it can be seen, the subject is just getting started.
Emergency situations on the cosmodrome of Plesetsk are not frequent, though. However, when they occur, they reveal a lot of problems that are linked both with the northern cosmodrome of Russia in particular and with the development of the Russian space exploration on the whole. The latest state of emergency took place on October 15th 2002, during the launch of Soyuz-U rocket. The rockets of this class are 97.69% reliable. Their fuel basically consists of kerosene and liquid oxygen. That is why Soyuz rockets are considered to be ecologically pure, in contrast to the rockets that are launched with the help of heptyl. The Office of the Military Prosecutor of the town of Mirny instituted criminal proceedings on the base of Article 232 of the Criminal Code – “Negligence.” The case was filed on the ground of the crime itself, the proceedings are not aimed against a certain person. Then the file was handed over to the prosecutor of the city of Samara. The Pravda Severa newspaper has already reported that the cosmodrome was not guilty of the breakdown. The accident took place on account of an alien object that found itself in the propulsion system of one of the rocket’s blocks. It is almost impossible to detect such a detail during the time, when a rocket is prepared to be launched. A defect like that can be shown only when an engine starts working.
Mass media outlets did not pay attention to one aspect, when they discussed the tragedy. The negligence resulted in severe consequences. Soldier Ivan Marchenko, born in 1982, died incidentally. When the rocket was launched, the soldier was staying in the building, where he was not supposed to be. He was killed with a window frame, which fell down on him from the height of the second story. As people said, the guy did not die of his own curiosity, he sat down underneath that window to eat a cake. Eight other men were injured as well, six of them were hospitalized. Specialists said that if the blast had happened a second later, the whole giant rocket would have crashed on the command post. If it had happened a second earlier, the rocket would have destroyed the observing ground and killed guests, officers, their wives and children. It is hard to imagine the end of such a show, taking into consideration the fact that there were foreign guests present there too. Unauthorized people were not allowed to be present at the launch – safety was the first priority. A tragedy like that happened back in 1973: the explosion of a rocket killed nine people.
One can understand military men. The command encouraged the visits of guests of various ranks. A launch is a very beautiful sight to see. However, it is extremely dangerous at the same time. There is no rocket in the world that would guarantee the absolute reliability. One should say that the military prosecutor and just common eyewitnesses emphasized the command’s actions: everyone was evacuated very fast, and there was no panic. No one of those, who came to see the “sight,” was injured. Some people had bruises, but it was not really important.
As far as the presence of curious people is concerned, there can be one thing said about it: all people always want to see something incredible and unusual. This aspiration can not be stopped. There will always be people, who will wish to see rocket launches, no matter how dangerous they might be. A state of emergency occurs even in highly-developed countries. The tragedy with the Shuttle of Columbia is a very good example of that. According to experts’ estimates, the number of breakdowns is to increase on the Plesetsk cosmodrome already in 2004, when a lot of Baikonur cosmodrome programs will be implemented on the northern cosmodrome.
Is anyone responsible for soldier Ivan Marchenko’s death? The reason of the blast has been identified, although the blast would not have killed a soldier, if he had executed adequate rules. Eight other men were supposed to be far away from the launching complex too. The industry does not have anything to do with the fact that there was a large number of guests present at the observing ground (there were about three hundred people there). The ground is situated about a kilometer far from the complex. This is the responsibility of those people, who were in charge of the launch – the command of the cosmodrome and of the missile troops. Gennady Kovalenko was in charge of the unfortunate launch , Anatoly Perminov was the chief of missile troops. The “space show” wouldn’t have taken place without their consent. The idea to show the launch to young lieutenants and their families was dictated with good intentions solely. However, a road to hell is paved with the same kind of intentions too.
Grigory Lazarenko, the military prosecutor of the Mirny garrison he was asked a question, if anyone was punished for breaking security rules: “We are not entitled to interfere in the organizational and administrative activities of the command. To put it rough, I can not stand up on a road and to decide that this person can go to see the launch and that person can not. Prosecuting bodies are supposed to issue the documents of prosecutor response (statements, protests), determining a question pertaining to the need of removing violations of law.”
Until recently there was no response documented regarding the presence of unauthorized people on launching spots. Conversations do not count. They treat this issue in a kindhearted way nowadays. As far as we know, higher instances did not have any reaction. We wonder, what would happen, if the parents of the killed soldier and other people, who suffered as a result of the blast, would go to court and claim the compensation of their damage? Who would be sued? Wicked tongue says that Gennady Kovalenko, the chief of the cosmodrome, will be definitely dismissed from his position. The cosmodrome became that accessible for outsiders during the time of his administration. It was even rumored that there was a criminal case filed against the chief, although the rumor was officially rejected later. However, the name of the new chief is likely to be exposed soon.
The idea of space tourism business is supposed to be realized beginning with the legal base, first and foremost. In the United States of America, or in France people pay a lot of money, if they wish to see something like that. In addition to that, observing grounds are built at a very safe distance there. At the end of the day, all curious people are supposed to be warned of possible consequences, including the ones that might bring harm to their health and lives. Such elementary rules would probably cut people’s curiosity. To crown it all, there is an issue of the financial compensation to the people, who live in the area of the Arkhangelsk region, where missile-carriers’ parts fall down.
No outsiders were allowed to access the Plesetsk cosmodrome after the state of emergency that took place in October. There were no breakdowns registered there either.
Elena Boiko Pravda Severa Arkhangelsk
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov