Last week’s Soyuz crash was just the latest in a series of embarrassing mishaps for Russia’s space industry, which is plagued by quality problems and an ageing workforce. With no other way to get astronauts into orbit, the operation of the International Space Station is now in question.
The people in the Altai Mountains of Siberia are regarded as frugal and tough. In late summer, many live from harvesting berries and cedar nuts.
They are also used to having burned-out rocket stages crash in the wilderness after spacecraft launches. When, in the middle of last week, a large ball of fire was seen in the sky above the taiga, residents of the village of Karakoksha were not alarmed. “I was at home when I felt the tremors,” said Yelena, a 26-year-old local woman with a dark ponytail. She heard a rumble and went to sleep.
In truth, Yelena had witnessed a debacle. After a malfunction, a Russian Soyuz rocket had crashed along with an unmanned cargo spacecraft named Progress. The explosion was heard even 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta noted with irritation.