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On Thursday a rocket failed. Three humans remain on the ISS. What’s next? (arstechnica.com)
68 points by okket 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

I feel like too big deal is being made of this, as if people are about to suggest that we should shut down all human space flight on the Soyuz for good. The emergency systems worked exactly as they were meant to. There is risk in going to space but it's worth it, the astronauts know what they're doing and what could happen. Everyone needs to calm down, wait for the investigation and then almost certainly get back to putting people in space.

> Everyone needs to calm down

That's just Arstechnica and Eric Berger. His space flight coverage including the Rocket Report is generally very good, but it always had this rather noticeable anti-Russian slant - every failure is yet another complete disaster, Russian space industry is a company of hacks, rockets are held together by sheer luck, etc.

Soyuz did have a lot of close calls and disasters over the years though. See http://www.jamesoberg.com/soyuz.html

35 anomalies over 222 flights up to 1997

How many anomalies and flights from 1997-2018? Why exclude 21-22 years of data?

Because the article was written in 1997.

I know, but I mean is that kind of data easily accessible? Would be interesting to see if there was any significant change in anomaly rate over time, no?

it is a shame though because the soyuz rocket is probably the most reliable rocket ever so far. The huge amount of launches provides also a statistical significance on the failure rate.

Yes, some parts of it date back to the soviet union, but it is a very reliable rocket


The fact alone that it’s still used so much, more than 30 years from design, is testament to its quality.

The much-celebrated Shuttle, in the meantime, is dead.

I also agree that a couple failures do not make an unreliable rocket. The Soyuz has a been a work horse for a long time.

I think the concern that people have though is that even if everything is designed correctly it means nothing if it not built correctly. There has been turmoil in management for Roscosmos and from what I have seen pressure from management can lead to poor quality.

The Space Shuttle is the most advanced and capable flying machine ever created by humans — it’s just too expensive and overqualified to send up to the ISS for routine missions, compared to what service the Russians can provide for relatively cheap.

One of the comments on the article actually covered that the space shuttle was not qualified to shuttle crew to the ISS. It ran off of fuel cells that could not be fully shut off. So the shuttle had a maximum mission length even if connected to the space station of 17 days. Whereas the soyuz capsule is qualified for 200 days. Which means that even if the shuttle took a crew member up, they had to have a spot on a soyuz capsule to get back.

> it’s just too expensive

It never reached the point in being worth using it, compared to the alternatives. At least in the use scenarios publicly known.

> At least in the use scenarios publicly known

This is key. The shuttle was a military project. It's usefulness and congress' appetite for continuing to fund it ended once alternatives[1] were put into service.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-37

Agree. Even here in Africa it's a headline story on the BBC World Service.

The fact this is the first time ever that system has been used on the Soyuz speaks volumes for it's reliability. They'll figure out what happened, and the entire system will get safer as a result.

It's been used before during a pad fire. I think this is the second time.


I agree. Luckily, Soyuz will likely fly again. The issue will be identified, and procedures will be out in place to avoid it in the future. Accidents happened in the past, accidents will happen again. Best we can do is make sure we don't repeat mistakes and prepare for things we don't know can go wrong.

I'm just hoping that it's a unknown failure mode. Worst case would (in my opinion) be human error during manufacturing (again).

Agreed. Every Astronaut and Cosmonaut is well aware of the safety (danger?) statistics and yet there is still a wait list.

A well-trained crew and ground control navigated a rapidly evolving, very dangerous situation enough to try again another day. This launch failed its mission yet successfully navigated a scenario that human beings are ill-equipped to handle on their own. Aborting mission and returning the crew to safety was a great accomplishment.

To be off-topic, news of the Soyuz feels like the news we should be reading in 2018: space travel instead of news of all the stupid politics and destruction of the planet. Where we can worry about the spacefarers instead of what next stupid thing will come out of the White House.

It feels like it's news from a parallel universe.

It’s certainly less upsetting, but I don’t think we should just try to avoid reading about the very real & very bad things that are happening when we have some power to address them.

The only power citizens have is in the election day, all the others days what can you do? Maybe go on the streets and protests but that almost never works.

IMO, we should read less political news, maybe once a week, if something major happens we will hear about it.

As the other reply points out, you can do things other than vote. Convincing like minded friends to get involved and convince their friends is very effective at the local scale. Local governments can improve—-or worsen—-life for their citizens dramatically (housing, food, health services, transportation, safety, etc).

On the larger scale, donations and canvassing matter. I feel like it’s a very safe assumption that the people frequenting this site have more resources (money, time, job options) than most.

You can put some of those resources to use by helping out candidates and campaigns you believe in. You can work with organizations who are working on the awful problems.

You can run for office yourself. I’ve seen acquaintances do it and win.

You can & should speak out and even quit if your company is doing something objectionable.

These are all a lot harder than just angrily watching the news (or hate-reading HN). It requires actual work and possibly significant personal sacrifice. I’m not always as good about it as I should be, but I feel confident that I’m getting better, and that those around me are too. It gets easier every day.

On a personal note: I’m an atheist and my parents mostly were too, but we were raised going to Quaker meeting. These days I find myself thinking about those Sunday school classes a lot. They were mostly focused on this kind of message (they were surprisingly secular). I wish I’d paid more attention. I might have started paying attention to this kind of thing earlier.

[edit] I totally forgot to reply to the "if something major happens we will hear about it" part:

What you consider "major" matters a lot though. Things you might normally think nothing about affect other people a lot. Also, at least in my circles, people talk way more about national news than local news, so I can't rely on hearing stuff through the grapevine.

I think it's a basic civic responsibility to keep yourself informed. It's also something most of us need to be better about.

Thanks for the response, I will think more on it and see if I can apply something(some things may not work for my personality or my local.country politics)

What I mean by major things you will find out about it is that usually there is nothing that happens n one day and you will miss it by not reading the news that day, laws get debated a lot, ton of noise is happening and here in Romania large protests happen (though not major changes actually come from those)

I admit that I am a cynic and I see all the parties as the same level of corruption and incompetence due to my observation that only some type of personality can go up the ladder.

The point about trying to convince your friends or relatives, does it ever work? I never seen someone let be convinced by arguments, they always watch same TV channels, read same papers you can't produce a change in a heated debate.

I am curious if you think that is any issue in getting informed at the end of the week, what could have happened that you getting informed with a few days delay mattered ? If is important you would hear about it on the non political channels/papers or from other places.

About the effectiveness of convincing friends & relatives: I know what you mean about skepticism about changing people's minds. It's hard, and I certainly don't think you'll realistically ever flip someone's deeply held belief on its head with a clever argument. The most effective thing I feel like I can do personally is push people who are already mostly on board with something out of complacency and toward action. For people who disagree with me more strongly, I just try to continually nudge them in my direction since that seems to be more effective than shutting them off.

About how frequently you actually need to read the news: if you're asking "do things move fast enough that hearing about an event when it happens vs a few days later matters?", then no, I don't think it does, and for some things you really need to wait before there's any useful information. But, at least personally, I don't think I could dedicate a block of time on the weekend to reading up on the events of the week. I follow some journalists on Twitter as well as some folks focused on local matters, and ask my brother questions about things I hear since he has more experience and I'm still relatively new to all this. Also, newspapers are great!

Lastly, about all parties being equally corrupt: I think they're all corrupt, but I don't think they're equal in either the degree of corruption or in the magnitude of harm their policies & discourse cause. On just one current issue: it's hard not to look at consistently Republican-lead policies that disproportionately disenfranchise black people and think that one side is very much worse here. Even if both sides are trying to stop their opponents from getting more votes, one side is clearly being more ruthless & cruel. Again, this is just one issue, but it's a big one and I believe there's plenty of evidence that this isn't an isolated case.

Thanks again for your reply, I am also getting information from my brother related to politics and sports since he keeps a closer eyes on this topics.

I agree is impossible to have a rigorous way of comparing the party corruption but I think that always the party in power will use all it can to win the next election, like voting populist laws, changing electoral rules and here in Romania attacking the justice department that is investigating the politicians and changing laws so most corrupt politicians won't be put in jail but keep their freedom.

You can also donate time and/or money to those running - see for example: https://techsolidarity.org/resources/great_slate.html

The Soyuz has an exemplary track record. Sure, there were a few accidents 50 years ago during the Soviet space program that were very bad, but it has transported people to and form the ISS for such a long time astronauts swear by it. This is almost like making a big fuzz about whether or not it's safe to drive after hearing about a highway crash. Yes, there are risks, but even more so than with driving the crew knew what they were doing. And they are even more aware of historical space related accidents than most people are.

I agree completely with you. But you are picking on the medias that use it to "clickbait" and sell a narrative. Facts and reliability don't mater. It has been transformed into sensationalism and into a "USA vs Russia" narrative.

Correct me if I'm wrong. As humans even though we are technologically far advanced than we were 10 years ago, I suppose rocket technology and space exploration areas have not been caught up with the latest technological advancements.

This is the perfect time for another space race. But the only problem is that I can only think of China as a contender.

Not to sound like a fanboy, but I think SpaceX would be a strong contender in any space race. Non-governmental, but very much pushing boundaries.

edit: Hm, I've never been downvoted on HN before. Care to explain why? I think my comment is adding to the discussion, in that OP was speculating only China could possibly be a contender in a space race. Certainly, SpaceX developing propulsive landing and reuse of the first stage is pretty game changing - liquid flyback boosters had only been proposed before, never actually created & used. SpaceX's ongoing experiments with fairing return leave me optimistic that it will work out fairly soon, too.

Launch vehicles are similar to commercial aviation. They are very risk averse, they do not adopt new technologies nearly as quickly. There is a good reason for this, they let other industries vet technologies so it is known to be reliable by the time aerospace uses it.

Also another consideration is the additional radiation concerns in space. Newer processors are more susceptible to single event upsets. So more processing power needs to be devoted to error checking or additional weight is necessary to rad harden the component.

The upcoming Crew Dragon and Starliner are more important now than ever.

They continue to be as important as they were on Monday. None will be flight-ready before this incident is fully evaluated, corrections in process/design applied and the system is cleared to fly again. All safety mechanisms worked as designed and the crew landed safely. The astronauts on the ISS still have their Soyuz if they really need to come down.

Nothing changed. Soyuz is still incredibly reliable. It's a bit old, a bit expensive (Crew Dragon, flying on reused Falcon 9's, will be much cheaper) and very cramped for 3 astronauts, but it does the job and has been doing it for what, 40 years?

This comment is meta, i.e. not strictly related to the content.. but looking over the HN comments, I find a majority is pro-Russian with the exception of one downvoted comment noting accurately that the US equivalent of cheap spaceflight (Crew Dragon) is important for these missions to the ISS. This is just speculation, but I wonder if the issues that Reddit identified with the campaigns by Russian entities may be as far reaching as YC. The content of the comments is interesting too, attacking the reputation of journalist.

The guidelines ask you to not do this because it doesn't do any good. Please just email us instead. We're looking at this kind of thing all the time and do find shillage, though it's most often not where users speculate (which has to do more with their own perception).


That's interesting. Not where we'd speculate? Thanks for the insight, and sorry I didn't see it was a part of the guidelines.

I think as another comment explained, you are conflating pro soyuz and pro russian. I couldn't care less about the russians, but the Soyuz is a beautiful feat of human engineering. This Rocket was designed more than 30 years ago and its simple and beautiful design passed the test of time.

I think what a lot of readers hate (and I'm part of those) is that a lot of simplified articles (like this one) seem to completely forget that this rocket is still the most reliable rocket upto this day, and uses sensationalism in order to clickbait.

Soyuz is exclusively manufactured by Russian entities, and whether or not we like to acknowledge it politics permeates spaceflight too. This is similar to how SpaceX is an American company. It's okay to conflate in context when we're talking about influencing national perception.

I’ve noticed similar patterns here and there on HN.

On the other hand, it could be more a reflection of the community’s general contrarian streak and bias for consciously impartial rationality (whether or not we succeed there is a different discussion).

Hard to say! I’ll defer to that classic aphorism: never attribute to state actors what can be attributed to antiestablishment geekery.

Well I took the time to read and you could also read them as Pro-Human Space Flight? There has always been competing views on HN on the value of human space flight vs unmanned space travel.

Personally I am pro-human space flights mainly due to how it captures the world. Space-X's stated goal of turning rocket launches into common events like a airplane taking off has pretty much happened. You have two humans also die and it is headline news around the world. I can't wait till we get someone back on the moon personally.

What? They're not pro-Russian, they're pro-Soyuz. You seem to be the one bringing the "us vs. them" mentality to the conversation.

It could just be an effect of when this was posted. It was 2am on the east coast when this went up. They’re just waking up now.

The majority of the time this article has been up is when people closer to Russia have been awake.

It will be interesting to see if the narrative shifts as we move through US time zones. Although with your comment currently at the top, that may skew the data. :)

I think you are being paranoid.

There is nobody on Putin's payroll writing wonderful words about Russia here. However, there are people that write rational rather than emotional comments that do not uphold the Russophobia we are all supposed to be going along with.

'Sinophobia' is sometimes present though (those Chinese are stealing our IP!!!) with this being a genuinely held belief, rarely backed up by tangible evidence.

> I find a majority is pro-Russian

Where are the pro-russian comments?

> but I wonder if the issues that Reddit identified with the campaigns by Russian entities may be as far reaching as YC.

You mean the nonsense they had to push to appease the media right? Glad you didn't bring up the $200,000 that some russian company supposedly spent on facebook to win trump the election. If the russians had been running a propaganda campaign on reddit, they did a piss poor job because 99% of the propaganda on reddit has been anti-russia since the very beginning.

> The content of the comments is interesting too, attacking the reputation of journalist.

So criticizing journalists ( an occupation that has lost an incredible amount of credibility recently ) means that you are a russian? I guess that makes 80% of the US population russian agents. But what about journalists who critize other journalists? Doesn't that make them russian agents too? Oh dear.

To me, the only suspect comment in this entire thread is yours. Or maybe that's because I'm a russian agent. /s

Seems like the whataboutism propaganda campaign has morphed into the "everyone's a russian agent" campaign. Wonder what it'll morph into next.

I haven't read the article and I have no idea who the journalist is, but what exactly is wrong with attacking a journalist's reputation if there are issues with it?

Ok, but if this was part of a campaign by a Russian entity, then you would probably find some proof of that in the comment histories of the people that posted these "pro-Russian" comments? Looking at those accounts, most of them are registered several years ago, and this is their first comment that is Russia-related.

Sure, this could be a very sophisticated campaign and these accounts could have been cultivated for multiple years for this purpose. But isn't it more likely these people are just normal Russians (or non-Russians tired of the anti-Russian angle in western media) that want to defend the reputation of the Soyuz?

Disclaimer: I am not particularly pro-Russian, but I have a Putin calendar on my office wall. Mostly because it ticks people off ;)

Some accounts are multiple years old and difficult to discern content-wise https://www.reddit.com/wiki/suspiciousaccounts

I'm also indifferent one way or the other, both the Falcon and Soyuz are impressive vehicles.

I'm not sure how much time you spend on HN, but US jingoism is quite popular here. Uh oh, I must be a Russian shill too.

I didn't say you were. It's just an observation based on recent current events. Reddit is taking active countermeasures to prevent that intervention, but as far as I know YC did not. I take time to read the opinions of this community far more than Reddit.

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