Moon for everyone. Why it is not beneficial for anyone to withdraw from space agreements

Weekly “Arguments and Facts” No. 17. The highlight of the program. How import substitution works and what Russia can do on its own 04/27/2022 Story Sanctions against Russia and Russia's retaliatory measures

Geopolitical battles have seriously affected the world astronautics. Contracts and joint projects have been suspended, launches have been stopped.

The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on the Russian space industry. In response, Roskosmos curtailed cooperation at the Kourou cosmodrome, canceled the launches of the British OneWeb satellites and doubts whether it is worth continuing joint work on the ISS. 

About how humanity will continue to explore outer space and whether everything will end with “star wars”, “AiF” talked to Nathan Eismont, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Leading Research Fellow of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

There will be no ISS without Russia

Dmitry Pisarenko, AiF: – Natan Andreyevich, which country will suffer the most from these mutual sanctions?

Nathan Eismont: – Space activities are inherently international. Now there are no exclusively American projects, just as there are no French or Russian ones. Why? Yes, because the best is taken from different countries for space research. Everything is done on a competitive basis. For example, an American rover surfs the expanses of Mars, and a Russian device is on board. He got there by competition – as the best in its class. And so it is in any direction of space activity.

Therefore, everyone will suffer. The point is that the results of the research are also used on a competitive basis. The data obtained (by the same rover) are sent to those who are better than others can process and interpret them for the benefit of science. Or take the ISS project. 14 countries participate in it. If the station ceases to exist, not only Russia and the United States, but the entire scientific world will suffer. 

Soyuz-Apollo Project (1975) had no scientific goals, only political ones. Photo

– By the way, about the ISS. A year ago, it was announced that we would withdraw from the project in 2025. What will happen to the station later and can we exit earlier, given the international situation?

– Without the participation of Russia, the station will not be able to function at all. The point is not that our cosmonauts have some special competencies or qualifications, but that there is a team working there that acts as a single entity. There is a certain distribution of functions, and if one part of the team leaves its composition, everything will stop.

Despite the fact that Russia announced its withdrawal from the ISS, this does not mean that the extension of the treaty is impossible. By the way, the Americans are asking for this extension – it is clear that they are interested in it. Yes, and so are we. You can get out, but we will hurt ourselves.

– Is it? In recent years, one can only hear that the station has exhausted its resource. Holes are found on it, then cracks.

– I think these incidents are deliberately dramatized. References to the fact that the resource of the ISS has been exhausted, in my opinion (and not only mine), are unconvincing. By promising to withdraw from the project, Roskosmos probably expects to achieve something from the Americans, to get something extra. These conversations are utilitarian.

There are examples showing how long a spacecraft can operate in Earth's orbit. Take the Hubble telescope, which made a breakthrough in astronomy and astrophysics. It has been in orbit since 1990, 8 years longer than the ISS. And is still in excellent condition – its service life has been extended until 2030. Or another example – orbital observatory “Integral”. Russian specialists are involved in this project. It was originally planned that the device would last 2.5 years. But this year marks 20 years since it flies, and all the experimenters are just happy with the results.

The same can be said about the ISS. A huge number of experiments are being carried out at the station. This is a very successful project, all parties are interested in it, and its capabilities should be used to the maximum. The life of the ISS has been extended many times and may be extended further beyond 2030. The station can be transferred to another mode of operation by raising its orbit. This is a unique building in which huge resources have been invested – intellectual and financial. Let me remind you that the ISS is included in the Guinness Book of Records as the most expensive object created by man. More than $150 billion has been spent on it. It is no less important that it is an instrument of international cooperation. Practice shows that it is very successfully implemented in space activities. At one time, Soyuz-Apollo became such a project. It was not needed from the point of view of science, but it helped in defusing international tension. The same political component, of course, is in the ISS project. It should not be ignored. 

What has accumulated on the moon?

– The launch of “Luna-25” is scheduled for August, which will land in the region of the South Pole of our satellite. Why are we returning to the Moon after 46 years?

– Previous expeditions to the Moon have answered many questions, but even more new ones have emerged. These are fundamental questions related to the origin of the Earth's satellite and its evolution. Imagine, among scientists there is still no consensus on how the Moon was formed. Our plans to return there are connected with the fact that we would like to get answers to these questions. Over the past decades, new devices and tools have appeared, so that the technological possibilities have increased greatly. In addition, the exploration of the Moon will help in the preparation of a future Martian expedition.

– Will it be possible to establish the extraction of valuable resources on the moon? There are calculations that one metallic asteroid that once fell on its surface is able to cover the needs of mankind in nickel for 2 thousand years, and in cobalt – 10 thousand years ahead.

– This is being talked about more and more, but it is still difficult to give a definite answer. The Earth is running out of rare-earth metals, and the Moon can indeed have a lot of them. But we do not know well what has accumulated there since its formation. For this, research is needed, sending new expeditions. It often happens that what seems completely unnecessary can then become very necessary and useful, and even an integral feature of human civilization. So it was with electricity. When it was discovered, no one assumed that it could have at least some applied value. And now we cannot imagine our life without it.

The same with the Moon. There is a fantastic offer – establish helium-3 production on the moon. This isotope is found in abundance in the lunar soil, and on Earth it can be used to carry out the thermonuclear fusion reaction, which is considered to be a source of cheap energy for the future. However, scientists have not yet succeeded in creating such a reactor; this is an unsolved scientific problem. Therefore, now it is impractical to extract lunar helium-3 (it is simply not needed), but it is possible that someday it will become the most valuable resource.

And most of all, they want to find water on the Moon. This is important both for fundamental science and for applied purposes – to organize future expeditions. Regarding the form in which water is contained on the Moon, there are also many ambiguities. & nbsp;

– Will it not turn out that in the future all countries will act separately in space? The Chinese will fly to the moon – they will stake out the plot, the Americans will land on Mars – They say it's their territory. So after all, before the "Star Wars" can get there.

– I hope there will be no wars and conflicts in space. But the issue of space law really worries many participants. So far, the approach is the same as in Antarctica: initially it is the property of all mankind. Nevertheless, questions have already been raised regarding the Moon. There were proposals to form teams of lawyers and discuss how to further develop the Moon so as not to harm each other.

Of course, this should be done now, because later, when conflicts arise, it will be too late. This can be done at the UN site, there is such an organization as COPUOS – Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. It functions successfully, and although disputes arise, they have so far managed to be resolved. Practice shows that it is unprofitable for all participants in space activities to withdraw from such agreements.

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