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When was the decision made to use Russian rockets?

Euphoria erupted in America when the Soviet Union was dismantled. For strategic reasons, President George Herbert Walker Bush jumped at the opportunity to take the Russian-built ICBM’s off the market and away from our enemies. That was a good move made by the former CIA chief. President Clinton followed the lead, and he was motivated by more competitive costs and by the ideal that comes from U.S. and Russian cooperation. Those are all good ideas with a caveat. It made the U.S. space program dependent upon Russians and throttled U.S. alternative development.

Dependent on Russia to stay aloft and to return
AFP/Getty Images

Never again should the U.S. put critical technology development and production into the hands of prospective enemies that are now called frenemies.

Capitalism isn’t patriotic and this is an instance. Even Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and others capitulated in the deal and contributed to making Americans more vulnerable.

Learn from this lesson and move on.

American elected officials must be selected for their maturity and allegiance to the nation. One may not question the decisions by past Presidents to take Russian rockets off the market from enemies. However, it was naive to not have a backup product, knowing the situation’s vulnerability.

A part of the high price of national security is knowing when duplication is necessary. It is also engineering the supply chain so that it is secure and best serves the comprehensive strategic needs of the nation.

According to The Daily Beast story on this subject, Russians had a corner on rocket technology partly because they had more robust access to titanium and they had greater metallurgy knowledge and skill. That fact should trigger alarms.

How is it that a failing state, and one with an inferior economic system be able to whip Americans to the punch and power in advanced rocket development? Perplexing isn’t it. This analyst submits that the trouble is that Americans are horribly sloppy and wasteful in the approach to government-led scientific and production development. This single instance should be sufficient to drive the nation’s leadership to learn the lesson and to initiate a charge to shape up.

“When the Soviet Union fell apart, President George H.W. Bush was anxious that the USSR rocket expertise, especially the nuke-tipped ICBM kind, didn’t get sold to the highest bidder—China, Iran, North Korea, Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry. President Bush and, after him, President Clinton urged U.S. aerospace executives to look for Russian rocket business partnerships that made sense.

They did make sense. The Russians had developed a very powerful, very reliable, and relatively simple liquid oxygen/kerosene engine. The U.S. had stopped most research and development on this kind of engine after the Saturn V moon rocket was retired.

The RD-171, which would become the RD-180, was a more advanced liquid fuel rocket engine than anything we had.

That was a surprise. I talked to several U.S. aerospace engineers who were involved with Russia from the beginning. “There were cats all over the factory,” said one. “I asked, ‘What’s with the cats?’ The Russians said, ‘The mice.’ I asked, ‘What’s with the mice?’ ‘They gnaw the wiring harnesses.’”

This engineer told me about the Soyuz booster engines, similar in design to the RD-180, and how, when it was time for the four boosters to be attached to the rocket, an old man would arrive carrying his own toolbox. He was the original expert on booster attachment. He was retired, but came in, unpaid, to make sure the boosters were attached right.

“The Soviet-era factories look like hell,” said another engineer. The Russian attitude is, ‘Why wash factory walls? They just get dirty again.’ But you go look at their machine tools and everything’s pristine.”

Part of the reason for the RD-180’s superiority is Russian skill with titanium. They have a lot of titanium in Russia. They’re adept at making titanium alloys. A third engineer I talked to called the alloys “unobtainium.”

We had trouble reverse engineering the alloys. “The Russians are amazing metallurgists,” said the third engineer. “But it’s an artisanal process. The Russians themselves may not know how it works.”

“Extraordinary what you can do when OSHA’s not around,” said yet another American engineer.”

“U.S. aims to fund alternative to Russian rocket engine in 2016

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 3, 2014 9:13pm EDT

US Defense Acquisition Chief Frank Kendall speaks to journalists at a news conference at the 2014 Farnborough International Airshow in Farnborough, southern England July 14, 2014.

(Reuters) - The U.S. government hopes to add funding to its 2016 budget for alternatives to Russian-made rocket engines to launch sensitive satellites, a key Pentagon official said Wednesday.

Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer, said Russia's aggression in Ukraine had clearly increased concerns about America's dependence on Russia-built RD-180 rocket engines that power the heavy-lift Atlas 5 rockets used to carry U.S. military and spy satellites into space.

"The situation has changed with events in Ukraine. Now that level of risk looks more significant," Kendall told the ComDef 2014 conference. "There is close to a consensus ... that we need to find a way to remove the dependency. We're looking at the best course of action to do that."

U.S. President Barack Obama accused Russia on Wednesday of a "brazen assault" on Ukraine, and urged NATO on Wednesday to help strengthen Ukraine's military, which has been fighting pro-Russian separatists for five months.

Tensions between Moscow and Washington have raised concerns that deliveries of the RD-180 rocket engines could be interrupted, although two engines arrived in the United States last month and three more are slated for delivery this fall for use by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp in its Atlas 5 rockets.

Kendall said the Pentagon had asked industry last month to provide information about alternate launch systems and engines. He said U.S. officials were weighing several options, including a joint government-industry development of a U.S. rocket engine.”

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