“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
There’s a prejudice against making fun of the mad that spans all cultures, all ethnicities; mock the mentally ill at your peril, for some fair-minded citizen will surely intervene. Possibly many, enough to make you take to your heels, because those who were born without the ability to reason, or had it and lost it, are perhaps God’s most innocent children. There are few compensations for being born half-a-bubble off plumb, but one of them is anti-mockery armor. Having a laugh at the expense of the lunatic is bad form; something only dicks do, because it’s cheap and easy.
That’s what must be preventing Dmitry Rogozin from roaring with laughter; from falling helplessly to his knees and collapsing, wheezing, onto his side. If someone smart says something stupid, they are fair game. But laughing when someone whose openly-stated beliefs suggest they are suffering from dementia is inappropriate. His dilemma is both obvious, and acute – what to do?
First, some background; who is Dmitry Rogozin? A former Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the Russian Federation’s defense industries, he also served as his country’s Ambassador to NATO. He has degrees in philosophy and technology, and currently serves as the Russian Federation’s Special Representative on Missile Defense. He is also the Director of Roscosmos, the Russian state’s Space Industry. Some have talked him up as a possible replacement for Vladimir Putin, as President of the Russian Federation, but it is in his latter capacity, head of Roscosmos, that we are most interested today. He knows more about rockets than that they are pointy at one end and have fire at the other, if you get my drift.
A bit more background, and then I promise we can begin to tie things together; I think I can also promise you are going to laugh. Not because you’re a dick. But I think you will find you do have to kind of snicker. Just be careful who hears you, okay? It’s not as much of an insult if people don’t know.
Most who have any understanding of space or rockets or satellites have heard of the RD-180. But in case there are some readers who have never heard of it, it is the Russian Federation’s workhorse rocket engine. Its first flight was 20 years ago, but it was built on the shoulders of the RD-170, which has been in service since 1985, making it a Soviet project. The RD-180 is essentially a two-combustion-chamber RD-170, which has four and remains the most powerful rocket engine in the world. The RD-180 is used by the United States in its Atlas space vehicles.
For some time, that was a fairly comfortable arrangement. The USA made fun of Russia whenever it wanted to feel superior, just as it’s always done, and made the occasional ideological stab at ‘establishing freedom and democracy’ by changing out its leader, but the Russian people were not particularly cooperative, and there were some problems getting a credible ‘liberal opposition’ started; even now, the best candidate still seems to be Alexey Navalny, who is kind of the granite canoe of opposition figures – not particularly well-known, nasty rather than compelling, spiteful as a balked four-year-old.
But then American ideologues in the US Department of State decided the time was ripe for a coup in Ukraine, and almost overnight, the United States and Russia were overt enemies. The United States, under Barack Obama, imposed sanctions designed to wreck the Russian economy, in the hope that despairing Russians would throw Putin out of office. America’s European allies went along for the ride, and trade between Russia and its former trade partners and associates in Europe and the USA mostly dried up.
Not rocket engines, though. America made an exception for those, and continued to buy and stockpile RD-180’s. The very suggestion that RD-180 engines might go on the sanctions list – US Federal Claims Court Judge Susan Braden postulated that funds used to purchase rocket engines might end up in Rogozin’s pocket (he being head of the Space Program, and all), and he was under US sanctions – moved the Commander of the United States Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center to note that without RD-180 engines, the Atlas program would have to be grounded.
All this is by way of highlighting a certain…vulnerability. Of course, observers remarked, the United States is a major technological power – it could easily produce such engines itself. So, why didn’t it, inquiring minds wanted to know.
Enter United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tony Bruno, with what reporters described as a ‘novel explanation’. Thanks much for the link, Patient Observer. The United States buys Russian rocket engines to subsidize the Russian space industry, so that fired rocket scientists will not pack up the wife and kiddies and their few pitiful belongings, and depart for Iran or North Korea. You know; countries that really hate the United States. I swear I am not making that up. Look:
“The United States is buying Russian rocket engines not because of any problems with its domestic engine engineering programmes, but to subsidize Russian rocket scientists and to prevent them from seeking employment in Iran or North Korea, United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno has intimated.
“The [US government] asked us to buy [Russian engines] at the end of the Cold War in order to keep the Russian Rocket Scientists from ending up in North Korea and Iran,” Bruno tweeted, responding to a question about what motivates ULA to continue buying the Russian-made RD-180s.”
Sadly, I had no Rogozin-like qualms about being thought a dick. I snorted what I was drinking (chocolate milk, I think) all over my hand, and gurgled with mirth for a good 20 seconds. Holy Moley – what a retarded explanation! How long did he grope for that, spluttering like Joe Biden trying to remember what office he is currently running for? Jeebus Cripes, the United States has no control at all over what rocket scientists are paid in the Russian Federation – what do they imagine prevents Putin The Diktator from just pocketing all the money himself, or spending it on sticky buns to feed to Rogozin, and throwing a few fish heads to the rocket scientists? Do they really believe some sort of symbiotic relationship exists between Russia’s rocket scientists and the US Treasury Department? Really? Have things actually gotten that far down the road to Simple? I tell you, I kind of felt a little sorry for Tony ‘Lightning Rod’ Bruno. But more sorry for his family, who has to go out and find him when he’s wandering in the park with no pants on again, you know. Humanitarian concerns.
So I started doing a little digging. And right away, I made a couple of discoveries that made my synapses frizzle. One, the United States has a license to manufacture the RD-180 engine domestically. And apparently can’t.
“Under RD AMROSS, Pratt & Whitney is licensed to produce the RD-180 in the United States. Originally, production of the RD-180 in the US was scheduled to begin in 2008, but this did not happen. According to a 2005 GAO Assessment of Selected Major Weapon Programs, Pratt & Whitney planned to start building the engine in the United States with a first military launch by 2012. This, too, did not happen. In 2014, the Defense Department estimated that it would require approximately $1 billion and five years to begin US domestic manufacture of the RD-180 engine.”
It’s only Wiki, but the references bear it out, such as the GAO’s “Defense Acquisitions: Assessment of Selected Major Weapons Programs“; you want page 65.
Well, no wonder! It’s a lot cheaper to slip some bucks to starving Russian rocket scientists than spend a Billion simoleons on a Pratt & Whitney program that will take five years (!!!) minimum to set up before it even starts producing an engine the Russians have been making for 20 years, and gave Pratt & Whitney the plans for. Seen in that light, it makes a weird kind of sense, dunnit? Minus the altruism and violins, of course.
Right about then, I made a second discovery that shook the fuzz off my fundament. Tony Bruno did not make that shit up. No, indeedy. It would have been simpler, and I have to say a bit more comforting, to assume Tony Bruno is the locus of American retardation. But he isn’t; the poor bastard was just repeating an American doctrinal political talking-point. Behold!
“When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, the US government worried about the possible consequences of lots of Russian rocket designers getting fired. What if they ended up working for regimes like Iran or North Korea?”
Pretty much word-for-word what poor Tony Bruno said. And that was posted 5 years ago.
But who cares, right? Just some wiggy space-nerd site.
Oh, but wait. Look at his reference. It’s from…NASA. And it does indeed include the paragraph he quoted.
“Moreover, several on the Space Council, as well as others in the Bush Administration, saw another reason to engage the post-Soviets in a cooperative space venture: as a way to help hold the Russian nation together at a time when the Russian economy was faltering and its society was reeling. In the words of Brian Dailey, Albrecht’s sucessor, “If we did not do something in this time of social chaos … in Russia, … then there would be potentially a hemorrhaging of technology … ‘away from Russia’ … to countries who may not have a more peaceful intention behind the use of those technologies.”
I’m not sure how reliable that is – the Americans still insist, in it, that they landed on the moon, and it points out that Dan Quayle was head of the National Space Council, dear Lord, have mercy. But it’s NASA! There was apparently a school of thought, prevalent in American politics, that America had to support the Russian economy, for fear of its technological proteges high-siding it for Dangerville. Neither North Korea or Iran are mentioned by name, but they would certainly be easy to infer from the description.
So we could draw one of two conclusions; either (1) Obama was a witless tool who did not read that historical imperative (probably had his nose in a healthy-greens cookbook, some shit like that) and blundered ahead with a plan to wreck the Russian economy, loosing a torrent of Russian rocket scientists into a cynical Murka-hatin’ world, or (2) Obama was a genius who applied sanctions with a surgeon’s delicacy, avoiding sanctions on the Russian space program. Although he did apply sanctions directly on its..umm…director. Okay, let’s go with (1).
Anyway, it’s kind of odd, I guess you’d say, to hear that same Brian Dailey, he who blubbered sympathetically (or so history records) “We have to do something…in this time of social chaos…in Russia”…say this:
“The meeting was actually more or less a signing ceremony, a large event, so to speak, but it was one that was obviously going to be reaching into some very hard winds that would prevent us from really moving forward. That’s a rather obtuse way of saying that we were having serious problems with the Russians. They wanted a lot of money for doing these things. They wanted to charge us a lot of money to hook up, and we didn’t believe that since this was a government-to-government activity, that money should be appropriately involved, and it was the intention of the two Presidents to put something together that would be funded by their respective governments rather than us trying to fund something for Russia.”
Say what? You had to do something for the Russian economy…without money? Tell me more.
“At that point, Dan had got very upset with the Russians and proceeded to tell them that we were not going to do business with Semenov directly, but our opposite number was Yuri Koptev, and that he ought to start learning how to work with U.S. industry, and that we were not going to pay for this particular activity and we were not going to be blackmailed into paying them, so to speak, and insisted that this be taken off the table and we proceed to find ways of making this happen, not ways to slow it down or charge us for any kind of cooperative activities like this.“
This all had to do with cooperation on some sort of docking system for the Mir Space Station, nothing to do with the RD-180, but I think you can see why I would be a bit skeptical regarding Project Payola for the Russian rocket scientists.
You might be getting a tingly feeling – call it a suspicion – that the USA is kind of pulling our leg on the idea that it can make a superior multi-chamber rocket engine any time it feels like it, and is just buying the RD-180 on long-ago government orders to cut the Russians a break. You might suspect the RD-180 is actually a pretty good engine, but the United States can’t make it for that kind of money, and perhaps can’t make it at all. I know! Let’s ask United Launch Alliance, that company that Tony Bruno is the CEO of.
“The Atlas launch vehicle’s main booster engine, the RD-180, has demonstrated consistent performance with predictable environments over the past decade. The RD-180 has substantially contributed to the established a record of high reliability on Atlas launch vehicles since its debut on the Atlas III in May of 2000.”
You don’t say. Tell me more.
“In the early 1990s the closed cycle, LOx rich, staged combustion technology rumored to exist in Russia was originally sought out by General Dynamics because engines of this kind would be able to provide a dramatic performance increase over available U.S. rocket technology. Unlike its rocket building counterparts in the United States, Europe, China, and Japan, Russia was able to master a unique LOx rich closed cycle combustion technology which delivered a 25% performance increase.”
But…but…I read the George H.W. Bush administration urged America to buy Russian rocket engines because they heard a rumor there was a suitcase sale on at the Energomash company store. And that, you know, the scientists might be planning a little trip.
“NPO Energomash, the leading designer of engines in Russia, had gone through hundreds of designs, each an improvement on the last, to harness the power of LOx rich combustion. This required a very careful approach to how the fuel is burned in the preburner so that the temperature field is uniform. It also required improvements in materials and production techniques. They found a way to take the chamber pressures to new limits while protecting the internal components from fire risks. This required a new class of high temperature resistant stainless steel invented to cope with the risks of the LOx rich environment.”
Oh, seriously, c’mon – is it as good as all that?
“The demonstrated performance established during this process was beyond anything achieved in the United States. The RD-180 reaches chamber pressures up to 3,722psia which was more than double the chamber pressures achieved by comparable U.S. engines. Exposure to Russian design philosophy and the success of a high performance engine made U.S. engine designers question their own methods. This dual sided cross-cultural engineering approach which has persisted through the life of the RD-180 program adds depth to the understanding of engine capability and operational characteristics.”
Okay, thanks, company that Tony Bruno is the CEO of. Good to know it wasn’t just charity.