In “Return of the Jedi,” Darth Vader arrives unexpectedly at Death Star 2.0 to check on how construction is progressing. The ashen faced Death Star commander, Moff Jerjerrod, assures him the men are working as hard as they can, and that the Empire’s newest planet killer will be operational as planned. A skeptical Vader disagrees and vows to find new ways of motivating the men. Jerjerrod gulps — hard.
This must be the way Russian space officials feel every time Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin pops in for a visit. The nation’s hardline space czar toured the Vostochny cosmodrome on Wednesday, and he was likewise unimpressed with the progress.
“I will view any deviation from the plan as sabotage,” Rogozin said at a meeting with representatives of agencies involved in building the cosmodrome. “I have no intention of being one of those public servants who accept failure to deliver on instructions.”
Sabotage? Seriously? That’s his motivational plan?
Although Rogozin didn’t go into specifics, it’s a good bet the penalties for sabotage in Russia are rather severe. Probably not “Apology accepted, Captain Needa” severe, but violators are likely looking at serious jail time. And the penalties are probably worse than the three-year terms that have been promised to the incompetent workers responsible for the costly series of launch failures that Russia has suffered in recent years.
The Russian media reports I’ve read indicate that Vostochny construction is suffering from all the normal problems that go with trying to build a brand new spaceport and a town to support it on more than 1,000-square kilometers (386 square miles) of land in the middle of nowhere. There’s been a shortage of skilled workers, supply problems of every kind, labor difficulties, and uncontrollable events like severe flooding.
But, no matter. The boss, Vladimir Putin, has vowed that Vostochny will be operational by 2015. And, so it will be. At least if Rogozin has anything to say about it. Which he does.
Meanwhile, Rogozin did take time to wax poetically about the new spaceport’s civilian settlement.
Rogozin said the town of Tsiolkovsky, where the spaceport’s personnel will live, will accommodate at least 25,000 people, mainly young people and may become home to “the young design potential.”
Where Russia will find all these young people to staff the spaceport is a bit of a mystery. Twenty years of rot and extremely low salaries have resulted in a severe shortage of replacement workers entering the field. Despite recent efforts to address the shortage, the problem won’t be solved overnight.
Vostochny is also in the middle of nowhere, which is not where most people — young or otherwise — want to live. And who wants to work in a field where you could end up jail if you screw something up?
In “Return of the Jedi,” Vader informs the hapless Jerjerrod that crotchety old Emperor Palpatine will shortly be arriving to personally oversee the final phase of construction. He also reminds the commander that the Emperor is not nearly as forgiving as he is of delays.
It looks as though Vostochny’s workers will be spared Putin’s extended presence at their Far East construction site, but they will get the next best thing: webcams that will provide 24-hour live coverage of the construction site.
So, get a move on, boys. The Emperor will be watching you, closely.