Even as the space war between Russia and United States started after the successful SpaceX flight, Moscow space officials on Sunday congratulated NASA but said they were puzzled by “hysteria” around it as Elon Musk taunted Russia and American President Donald Trump vowed to beat it to Mars.
Russia on Saturday lost its long-held monopoly on space travel as SpaceX made history by becoming the world’s first commercial company to send humans into orbit.
Musk lobbed a jab at Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian space chief who once said Washington may one day be forced to “deliver its astronauts to the ISS by using a trampoline”.
“The trampoline is working,” quipped Musk at a post-flight news conference alongside NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Both men laughed. “It’s an inside joke,” Musk added.
Rogozin remained conspicuously silent for most of Sunday but offered his congratulations to Bridenstine after the Crew Dragon capsule with two NASA astronauts docked with the ISS.
“It’s safe to congratulate you at this point with a successful launch and docking. Bravo!” he tweeted.
Dear @JimBridenstine, it’s safe to congratulate you at this point with a successful launch and docking. Bravo! I know how anxious you were for this major event to become a success. I wish @NASA team to successfully finish up reconstructing its national space transportation system
— Дмитрий Рогозин (@Rogozin) May 31, 2020
“Please convey my sincere greetings to @elonmusk (I loved his joke) and @SpaceX team. Looking forward to further cooperation!”
In 2014, Rogozin, then deputy prime minister, mocked the lack of a US manned flight programme after Washington announced new sanctions against Moscow which included some space industries.
While Russia congratulated America, it also made it clear on Sunday that it is puzzled by the frenzy unleashed by what many hailed as the dawn of a new era.
“We don’t really understand the hysteria sparked by the successful launch of a Crew Dragon spacecraft,” Roscosmos spokesman Vladimir Ustimenko said.
“What should have happened a long time ago happened,” he added, tweeting excerpts of Trump’s congratulatory speech.
President Trump vowed that US astronauts would return to the Moon in 2024 “to establish a permanent presence and a launching pad to Mars” while speaking at the iconic Kennedy Space Center in Florida after the successful SpaceX launch.
“And the first woman on the Moon will be an American woman and the first nation to land on Mars will be the United States of America,” he said.
“We are not going to be number two anywhere,” he added.
The Russian space agency did not take it lightly and shot back, saying it was not planning to sit idle, either.
“Already this year we will conduct tests of two new rockets and resume our lunar programme next year,” Ustimenko tweeted.
He did not elaborate but Rogozin has earlier said the country planned to conduct a new test launch of the Angara heavy carrier rocket this autumn.
Rogozin has also said Russia is pressing ahead with the development of its new intercontinental ballistic missile, the Sarmat, also known as Satan 2 by NATO’s classification.
In 2018, President Vladimir Putin boasted that the Sarmat was one of the new Russian weapons that could render NATO defences obsolete.
Russia had for many years enjoyed a monopoly as the only country able to ferry astronauts, and Saturday’s launch meant the loss of a sizeable income. A seat in the Soyuz costs NASA around $80 million.
Roscosmos insisted that the US still needed Moscow.
“It’s very important to have at least two possibilities to make it to the station. Because you never know…,” Ustimenko said.
Some officials in Moscow sought to downplay the US feat.
“This is a flight to the International Space Station, not to Mars,” said Alexey Pushkov, a member of the upper house of parliament.
The Russian space programme sent the first man into space in 1961 and launched the first satellite four years earlier.
But since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, it has been plagued by corruption scandals and a series of other setbacks, losing expensive spacecraft and satellites in recent years.
The US launch and Musk’s joke set Russian social media alight, with wits ridiculing Rogozin and the Russian space chief’s name trending on Twitter.
“How do you like this, Dmitry Rogozin?” one critic prodded.
The mission is a defining moment for SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk in 2002 with a goal of tearing up the rules to produce a lower-cost alternative to human spaceflight.
By 2012, it had become the first private company to dock a cargo capsule at the ISS, resupplying the station regularly ever since.
Two years later, NASA ordered the next step: to transport its astronauts there by adapting the Dragon capsule.
The US space agency paid more than $3 billion for SpaceX to design, build, test and operate its reusable capsule for six future space round trips.
NASA used to pay Russia for use of its Soyuz rockets to take its astronauts to space ever since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011 and the decision was taken to shift focus to commercial partners for missions in low Earth orbit.