As far as space heroes of the Soviet Union go, Valery Ryumin is among the most prolific. An experienced cosmonaut throughout the Cold War, including two long duration stays aboard the early generation Salyut-6 space station almost twenty years before the International Space Station came online. Once the Soviet Union fell, Russia’s space program, Roscosmos, needed their best and most capable cosmonauts to represent their program in an exchange with NASA — and it was Ryumin they chose to join the crew of America’s space shuttle Discovery on a flight to Russia’s Mir space station in 1998.
Twice awarded the honor of being named “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the 79-year-old Ryumin still enjoys a great deal of influence when it comes to Russia’s space endeavors. While Russia may not have gone to the moon, Ryumin’s public statements about his nation’s space program could be compared to a famous astronaut from the Apollo missions choosing to speak about NASA. Folks tend to pay attention when heroes take the podium.
Perhaps that’s why it’s so surprising that Ryumin took an opportunity in a recent interview with Russian state-owned Pravda.ru to take his former space program behind the wood shed. The former cosmonaut first took on the program’s leadership, criticizing the new head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin. Rogozin isn’t just the head of the nation’s space program, however, he’s also Russia’s former Deputy Prime Minister.
“He’s not a space specialist but a journalist,” Ryumin said of Rogozin, who graduated from college with a degree in journalism. Ryumin added that the Roscosmos head “may be talented and a pretty good organizer, but in order to survive in this business, you need to know the history and have real experience. It takes a lot of time.”
It’s surprising to hear such a prominent voice speak out against a member of Putin’s inner circle, even using somewhat muted language — but Ryumin did away with such courtesies when asked about Russia’s forthcoming spacecraft, Frontier. The Frontier program is intended to be Russia’s answer to the U.S.’ Orion program — creating an entirely new space craft capable of deep space missions.
“Even if we build Federation, it won’t be a quality ship, much less up to date technologically. What the Americans and Europeans are doing, in my view, is a fundamental qualitative breakthrough,” Ryumin told the press.
Here in the United States, many have grown frustrated with the nation’s lack of manned spacecraft. NASA’s SLS remains perpetually delayed and even the private contractors that have taken the lead in America’s space endeavors continue to delay their own manned missions. As Ryumin pointed out, Russia too faces a rocket problem.
“Even if we build Federation, we don’t have any way to launch it into space,” Ryumin said. “There’s no booster for it, and no money to build it. There are only decisions that we need to build a ship and a new booster. But there’s nothing else besides words. We’ve been given a task but no means to fulfill it.”