Elon Musk’s SpaceX And The Russian Space Program Are In A New Space Race, This Time It’s Nuclear

Man in space
Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

Russia to Musk, “Challenge accepted!” That is the message one gets when parsing the trash-talk from Russia as reported by BGR.

“Elon Musk and SpaceX won’t be leading the reusable rocket space race long, at least not if Russia has anything to say about it. Russia’s Keldysh Research Center has been working on a reusable rocket solution for nearly a decade now, and now it’s ramping up the hype with a new concept video showing how its spacecraft works.

“Speaking with reporters, Vladimir Koshlakov explained that Elon Musk and SpaceX pose no real threat to the group’s plans. Musk, Koshlakov says, is relying on technology that will soon be antiquated, while Russia is looking towards shaping the future of spaceflight.”

It is a little like what you would expect from heavyweight boxers just before a big match on pay-per-view. Except, in this case, it is hard to understand what the stakes are. The first space race was about national pride. Even then, it hardly matters which nation-state reached space first, or that first left a souvenir on the moon.

One would think we had gotten past all that with the success of the international space station. It stands as a testimony to what we can do when we go beyond artificial lines on a map and rise above political differences to be united as one people.

But that’s not what we were saying during the first space race. And it apparently doesn’t fly in the current one. What flies is Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster. Because where it is, we don’t need roads.

In this handout photo provided by SpaceX on Feb. 8, a Tesla roadster launched from the Falcon Heavy rocket with a dummy driver named Starman heads toward Mars. SpaceX / paceX via Getty Images

We can easily imagine a future where reusable rockets will come in handy. But there will be plenty of business to go around. In the end, it won’t matter who accomplished it first. As for bragging rights, it is a government versus an individual. And the individual is winning.

That said, the Russians know their way around space. And we can only benefit from their contributions. They also know their way around nuclear. So it only makes sense that they have managed to fuse the two.

Note that this isn’t the first time Russian space officials have verbally jousted with Musk over his ambitions. Vladimir Solntsev, Russia’s general director of RSC Energia, the country’s top spaceflight contractor, suggested that Musk was not going to be able to send paying customers into space and around the moon by next year.

Sontsev is not wrong about what he said. Musk does have the tendency to overpromise. We have not seen Musk’s designs. There is no launch vehicle and no spacecraft. Then again, Musk has one of his cars in space and headed for Mars. Your move, Russia.