Russian PM replaces space agency chief after setbacks
MOSCOW, Russia - Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday replaced the head of the state space agency Roscosmos after a series of high-profile setbacks including a deeply embarrassing rocket explosion upon takeoff.
Oleg Ostapenko, previously deputy defence minister, was appointed the new chief, replacing Vladimir Popovkin who lasted only 2.5 years at the post.
"You've been engaged in the space industry all your life including at the military posts," Medvedev told Ostapenko in televised remarks.
"Now you are set to be involved with space in a slightly different dimension. No doubt that this topic is complex and requires greater attention from the state."
Before his appointment to the post of deputy defence minister last year, Ostapenko served as commander of space forces and before that as chief of Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
The previous Roscosmos chief Popovkin was appointed to the job in April 2011 amid frustration in the government with the country's space program including a series of satellite crashes.
However Popovkin's own stint was marked by continuing embarrassments including a spectacular explosion of an unmanned carrier rocket upon takeoff that was caught on live television in July.
The Proton-M rocket carried several hundred tons of kerosene, heptyl and amyl which are highly poisonous components of rocket fuel.
Accomplishments like sending the first man into space in 1961 have brought Russia's space programme acclaim but it suffered from a sharp drop in funding after the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years later.
Roscosmos has in past years sent several paying space tourists to the International Space Station (ISS) to help make ends meet although this program is currently frozen.
After the retirement of the US shuttle, Russia is currently the only nation capable of transporting humans to the ISS and currently sends American and other international astronauts into space as well as its own Russian cosmonauts. - Rappler.com