He must not be a space booster

By Phil Plait | March 26, 2008 6:00 pm

A Russian farmer is suing the Russian Space Agency Roskosmos for <Dr. Evil>one million rubles</Dr. Evil> because a rocket booster fell on his farm.

The story is a bit weird. If the booster came down and smashed his house, or crushed his outhouse, or flattened his dog, then sure, sue away. But the thing fell in his yard, as the article pointedly says, missing his outhouse (phew!). Sounds to me like he has a goldmine on his hands.

Problem is, stuff falls from rockets relatively often in that area, which is along the Russian launch path, so the novelty worth of the booster may not be that high. You can’t beat a quotation like this from the Roskosmos spokesman:

Technologically speaking, these parts are supposed to fall off during a launch. They fly, they fall, they fly, they fall. It’s how they work.

Well, yeah, boosters and such fall. But the article also mentions things like bolts, engines, and casings? I suspect there may be a translation problem here; he means fall to the ground, not fall off. Still. Yikes.

Anyway, given how cash-strapped the Russian agency is, I can’t imagine he’ll get anything from them. He should put the thing on eBay if he wants to see some money. Maybe he could paint a ghostly face on the side, just to up the value, too.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Time Sink

Comments (36)

  1. Arnaud

    1 Million Roubles = Euro 37.891 or $42,613.03. It’s not that much…

  2. Michael Lonergan

    Never mind a ghastly image, he should paint a picture of Jesus or the Virgin Mary on the side. He’ll make a fortune!

    I can understand him suing if he was sitting on the toilet at the time it came crashing down, though. He’d have some extra work cleaning out the holding tank.

  3. Chip

    Since Russia has embraced free-wheeling capitalism of sorts, he should place a series of little signs along the road past his farm, reading – (translated here in English)….”It came from Outer Space!”…”What is this?”….”It fall from Sky!”….”Oh my! Unknown space ship!”…”Snack bar!”…”Soda Pop.”…”Free Parkink.”…”It came from Outer Space!”……”Admission 236 Rubles.” :D

  4. IRONMANAustralia

    Hey while we’re talking about foreign space programmes playing Russian Roulette, (pun intended), with the civilian population, what lengths does NASA go to in preventing these kinds of mishaps:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_EnrVf9u8s

    Oh, and thanks for that Skylab thing by the way.

  5. davidlpf

    The USluanch from the cape to prevent a lot of the material from falling down over land.

  6. Michael Lonergan

    Ironman,
    I had never even heard of the Chinese accident. Very sad. The Americans launch from Florida, most times, and they head out over water. I’m not sure of the population around Vandenburg AFB.

  7. Speaking of Skylab, if you’re ever crossing the Nullarbor drop in to the Balladonia Roadhouse where they have a Skylab museum and have a gander. Skylab came down nearby in ’79 and they still have some bits.

    http://www.nullarbornet.com.au/towns/balladonia.html

    Be warned it’s a bit of a drive from downtown Sydney or Perth or anywhere for that matter.

  8. Michael Lonergan

    The Russians have done surprisingly well with their manned launchers, considering the dated technology. I guess if it ain’t broken, why fix it?

  9. Space Cadet

    I came up with about 44K, U.S. I wonder how big the thing is, and how much it would cost to get it over here? Chip’s on the right track, but he’s got the wrong location. I can see his signs with a slightly different nationalistic twist: Star Wars Unveiled! Real Evidence of the Real Soviet Space Program! HERE ON US SOIL!!!! All on the road to ……..
    ROSWELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    (kaching)

  10. Space Cadet

    p.s

    Ironman,

    I wonder how much you all could’ve made if you’d parted the thing out to private collectors?

  11. Lurker #753

    On the one hand, the stated reason for the suit was “stress” (possibly incurred through lack of money?)

    On the other, Protons use UDMH/N204 as fuel, and since fuel tanks are never allowed to run completely dry (engines tend to explode if not shut down neatly – see the external tank fuel sensor problem with the not-quite-Christmas 2007 Shuttle flight for details).

    So if somebody dropped a Proton booster in MY backyard, I’d be reaching for my lawyer pretty soon after calling some Hazmat people.

    Lurker #753

  12. Michelle

    Stress… I guess if he heard the thing fall, he must’ve been quite startled. So I guess it applies but um… Yet…

    …Does the Russian gov often drop stuff on other people’s lawn? It sounds like something NASA wouldn’t do.

  13. IRONMANAustralia

    @Michael Lonergran

    Yes, I’m curious as to how NASA factors in such possibilities – like is there more chance of hitting a boat in the gulf than the Russians ever have of hitting an outhouse?

    Not that either of them could get the odds to zero of course, and I appreciate the great care the US takes in avoiding building rockets with duct tape and vodka-infused chewing gum. I mean, that’s got to decrease the odds dramatically.

    But to be fair, the Russians have some massive land areas that would compare favourably in population density against a Titan rocket dropping a mile off Miami Beach.

    @Space Cadet

    I was just reading about how some guy made $10,000 off Skylab – not bad for 1979:

    “… Skylab’s demise was an international media event, with merchandising, wagering on time and place of re-entry and nightly news reports. The San Francisco Examiner offered a $10,000 prize for the first piece of Skylab to be delivered to their offices. 17-year-old Stan Thornton scooped a few pieces of Skylab off the roof of his home in Esperance, Western Australia and caught the first flight to San Francisco, where he collected his prize …”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylab#End_of_Skylab

  14. This story was posted on our rocket club mailing list a couple of hours ahead of here, so I’ll just repeat what I said there:

    The debris ALMOST hit his out house and he’s suing for “distress.” I’d say our cold war victory is complete.

    - Jack

  15. IRONMANAustralia

    I really miss the Cold War.

    Remember the 80′s world maps? Good guys in blue, bad guys in red.

    *Wistful sigh*

  16. Ironman, the yanks still use those types of maps, blue and red, on their Murrican maps. Not sure which is good and which is bad but – depends on who you ask I think.

  17. Melusine

    What is it with Russians suing space agencies? First there was the Russian astrologer who wanted to sue NASA for smashing into Comet Tempel with Deep Impact, which she claimed was causing her “moral trauma,” and now this farmer wants to sue his own space agency. Heck, I’d love a booster to fall on my yard…how many people can claim that?

  18. Michael Lonergan

    Ironman,
    The US Navy uses aircraft and boats to make sure the downrange is cleared of all vessels. If anything gets in, the launch is delayed until it’s moved out. It’s happened several times that I know of.

  19. quasidog

    I really hope he wins. Nobody should have to have a rocket fall in their back yard and just accept it.

  20. Michael Lonergan

    Shane said:

    “Ironman, the yanks still use those types of maps, blue and red, on their Murrican maps.”

    Shane, they have to be color coded so President Bush knows which country to invade next. Blue is good. Red is bad. He has to know where the Turrists are in order to stop then getting nuclur weapons.

  21. Larry

    @ Michael Lonerganon

    “I can understand him suing if he was sitting on the toilet at the time it came crashing down, though. He’d have some extra work cleaning out the holding tank.”

    What holding tank? My memories of
    outhouses as a boy were not of some structure such as a Blue Boy made of
    fiberglass. Just sit on/over the hole
    and let it go.

    I picture this poor Russian as having about what I had sixty-five years ago.

  22. With that much stuff falling in the local area he’d be better off gathering it all up, bolting it together and charging dotcom founders a million bucks a flight.

    /takes up space farming in Russia.

  23. mitrax

    What a shame really!… what is it with russians? that wouldn’t happen in the USA for sure ……. or would it ?
    I was under the impression suing was like the national sport there, i must be mistaken … *cough*
    As Arnaud pointed out, 1 million russian roubles is no more than $40K, come on guys…

  24. This is actually a pretty good example of why the U.S. decided to “shoot down” that satellite a few weeks ago.

    More importantly, who can blame the farmer for suing? He probably wants to get enough money to build a bathroom INSIDE his house.

  25. Michelle

    I sure don’t blame the guy. If it nearly missed MY house, I’d sue them too. This is a grave mistake, and they need to be more careful.

  26. One of your better headlines, BA. Made me smile on a day I needed it. Nice!

  27. Michael Lonergan

    They should just offer him a free ride on one of those boosters!

  28. “Rocket booster”
    “Fell from space”
    “While I was shaving”
    “But didn’t nick my face”

    “Burma Shave”

  29. Melusine

    Michelle said:

    I sure don’t blame the guy. If it nearly missed MY house, I’d sue them too. This is a grave mistake, and they need to be more careful.

    This thinking is a problem with our overly litigious society – suing for accidents because something could have happened rather than simply advocating for why it shouldn’t happen. Sure, if it landed on his house, they should fix it. If he was killed, his family could rightly sue, but he wasn’t hurt, so how do you fix a price of $40K on the matter? People ought to let things go – there are too many who try to capitalize on alleged “stress” of one sort or another and it ends up hurting more people and wasting the courts’ time for more serious matters.

  30. FWIW, I searched the Russian Internet for this and couldn’t find the Vorobyov quote anywhere. It’s not in any of the articles about Urmatov. From the English version, it’s hard to tell how many sources they used. Izvestiya’s piece on Urmatov didn’t quote Vorobyov (the Roskosmos press spokesman) by name, or have that quote unattributed. Vorobyov is in 3000+ hits that mention Roskosmos (there are lots of people with that name, including an actor and a politician, so there are over 51000 hits just on his name), so I’m not searching to see if this is some canned statement. I tried searching on his name and ?????? and ??????, the most common words for “they fly” and “they fall”, but found nothing. So I can’t help you linguistically. All I can find from him is:”????? ????, ??? ??? ??????? ?? “???????”, ? ????? ???? – ?? ?????????????. ??? ???? ???????????. ???? ??????????? ??? ????? ?????????? ? ???????? ????? ? ?????????, ??? ??? ?? ???????. ????? ????, ??? ? ?????, ?????? ????? ? ???? ????? ? ??? ????????. ??? ??? ?????, ???????, ??????????? ???? ???????????, ?? ???? ??? ????????, ??? ??? ??????? ?????????? ??????-????????” which is “Perhaps this is our fragment off the Proton, but perhaps it’s American. We have to investigate. Our experts will get there in mid-March and check out what kind of fragment it is. Thank God, as I understand it, the shepherd is alive and even ready to go to court. It’s of course possible that compensation will be paid to everyone, but it still needs to be proved that this is a fragment from a Russian launch.”

  31. FWIW, I searched the Russian Internet for this and couldn’t find the Vorobyov quote anywhere. It’s not in any of the articles about Urmatov. From the English version, it’s hard to tell how many sources they used. Izvestiya’s piece on Urmatov didn’t quote Vorobyov (the Roskosmos press spokesman) by name, or have that quote unattributed. Vorobyov is in 3000+ hits that mention Roskosmos (there are lots of people with that name, including an actor and a politician, so there are over 51000 hits just on his name), so I’m not searching to see if this is some canned statement. I tried searching on his name and letayut and padayut, the most common words for “they fly” and “they fall”, but found nothing. So I can’t help you linguistically. All I can find from him is:”Perhaps this is our fragment off the Proton, but perhaps it’s American. We have to investigate. Our experts will get there in mid-March and check out what kind of fragment it is. Thank God, as I understand it, the shepherd is alive and even ready to go to court. It’s of course possible that compensation will be paid to everyone, but it still needs to be proved that this is a fragment from a Russian launch.”

  32. Oh, look. The error message about an “illegal mix” didn’t mean “I can’t post this because it has Cyrillic” it only meant “I can’t post this WELL.” Sorry for the double post.

  33. Kurt

    “enormous metal casing, as smooth as an egg. The uncovered part had the appearance of a huge cylinder, caked over and its outline softened by a thick scaly dun-coloured incrustation. It had a diameter of about thirty yards. He approached the mass, surprised at the size and more so at the shape, since most meteorites are rounded more or less completely. It was, however, still so hot from its flight through the air as to forbid his near approach. A stirring noise within its cylinder he ascribed to the unequal cooling of its surface; for at that time it had not occurred to him that it might be hollow.”

    Fixed.

  34. Calli Arcale

    Personally, I’m a little surprised the government is giving him the time of day. This is certainly not the first time rocket bits have fallen in a farmer’s backyard. It is standard operating practice, in fact. Soyuz strap-on boosters, and the first stages of nearly all rockets, usually wind up on the steppes, mostly in Kazakhstan but some in eastern Russia. I have a copy of Space Illustrated with an article showing a Russian farmer with a titanium sledge and a titanium shovel, which he crafted out of the parts of a rocket stage which landed on his property.

    The stages which fall on Kazakhstan are typically first stripped by government agencies, and then left to the tender mercies of the “rocket mafia” — loose collections of metal scavengers who fight to be the first to get to the site of the spent stage or strap-on booster. Rocket scavengers are so good at their job that they typically beat the military to the site; the unwritten agreement is that they then allow the military first dibs, and the military will make sure that no other scavengers come in and claim the stage in the meanwhile. Indeed, scavengers are likely the reason why an experimental reusable rocket vanished after it landed a couple of years ago. They know what they’re doing, and they are very efficient. Scrap metal sells well in Russia.

  35. Melusine

    Calli Arcale, that’s interesting. It’s like the gleaners in France.

  36. you cannot just give him money for having the right garden in the right place. can and worms springs to mind.

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