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Russia’s tone changes regarding SpaceX’s Crew Dragon success

Published Jun 10th, 2020 10:12PM EDT
russia spacex
Image: NASA

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  • Russia’s space agency and its officials have seemingly grown sour over the accomplishments of SpaceX and the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
  • Comments out of Russia were initially positive and congratulatory regarding the Crew Dragon launch and docking, but things have changed in the weeks since.
  • Russia says SpaceX is at war with Boeing, not with Russia.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has proven its worth to NASA. The spacecraft nailed its uncrewed flight to the ISS and followed that up with a crewed mission just a couple of weeks ago. Crew Dragon remains docked to the International Space Station as we speak, but once it returns its crew safely to Earth it will earn a coveted NASA certification, officially adding it to NASA’s lineup and allowing the space agency to send a crew into space whenever it wants.

Russia has been watching all of this unfold with great interest. The Russian space agency Roscosmos was NASA’s go-to for sending its astronauts into space ever since the Space Shuttle program was shut down. Several Roscosmos officials have responded to the successful Crew Dragon crewed mission in the days since, and not all of it has been congratulatory.

Shortly after Crew Dragon successfully launched with astronauts aboard, SpaceX boss Elon Musk threw a playful jab at Russia during a press conference. Musk was quoted as saying “the trampoline is working,” which was a reference to some underhanded remarks made by Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos.

Rogozin had previously commented that the United States might as well “use a trampoline” to send its astronauts into space. Now that the US has its own way of sending space travelers skyward without relying on Russia, Musk’s joke caught the attention of Rogozin, who was surprisingly cheerful about it.

“Please convey my sincere greetings to @elonmusk (I loved his joke) and @SpaceX team,” Rogozin commented on Twitter. “Looking forward to further cooperation!” Rogozin also tagged NASA administration Jim Bridenstine, the Roscosmos Twitter account, as well as NASA in the tweet.

The official word from Roscosmos itself was much less upbeat. “We don’t really understand the hysteria sparked by the successful launch of a Crew Dragon spacecraft,” Vladimir Ustimenko, a Roscosmos spokesperson, said in a statement. “What should have happened a long time ago happened.”

As Ars Technica reports, Rogozin’s positive remarks quickly disappeared from Twitter, along with his entire Twitter account, converting it to an official Roscosmos account instead. He followed up that move by publishing an op-ed in Forbes in which he appears more fiery than his comments on Twitter suggested.

“Elon Musk did not bring us down — he brought down his compatriots from Boeing passing them with the beginning of the flight tests,” Rogozin said in the piece. “This war is theirs, but not ours.” He also criticized the costs associated with the launches, stating that Russia is doing things on a much lower budget, emphasizing the value of the Russian Soyuz rocket platform.

He’s actually not wrong about these things. SpaceX utterly embarrassed Boeing by beating them to the punch and delivering Crew Dragon to NASA well ahead of Boeing’s own Starliner. He may also be right about the cost, at least for now. The amount of money spent on these launches is indeed high, but since NASA already approved the use of previously-flown rockets for its future missions, things could change rapidly in favor of affordability.