Evidently failure is no longer an option when it comes to Russia's space program. The country's president, Dmitry Medvedev, told reporters this weekend that scientists and engineers behind the Phobos-Grunt mission — the most recent failure in Russia's decades-long streak of unsuccessful interplanetary missions — could face criminal prosecution.
"Recent failures are a strong blow to our competitiveness," explained Medvedev. "It does not mean that something fatal has happened, it means that we need to carry out a detailed review and punish those guilty."
One of the "recent failures" Medvedev is referring to is almost certainly the botched Russian cargo shipment, intended for the International Space Station, that came crashing to Earth minutes after blastoff back in August.
"I am not suggesting putting them up against the wall like under Josef Vissarionovich (Stalin), but seriously punish either financially or, if the fault is obvious, it could be a disciplinary or even criminal punishment," Medvedev continued.
Does Medvedev's reaction sound a little blown out of proportion to anybody else, or are there details about the preparation for the Phobos-Grunt mission that have yet to be made public? Nature news blog speculates that Medvedev's words could be directed toward Lavochkin, the company that built the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. Is this why Alexander Zakharov, the mission's lead scientist, sounded so quick to pin the mission's failure on the "lack of experience" of the mission's "young people" when the spacecraft failed to chart a course for deep space?