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Space losing allure after Cold War


COLLEGE PARK -- Roald Z. Sagdeev says the end of the Cold War will fundamentally alter the goals and methods of scientific research by history's two most advanced technological societies.

The prominent physicist, who for 15 years was the chief architect of the Soviet space program, has spent the past 2 1/2 years as a professor at the University of Maryland and as the founding director of an institute there now called the East-West Space Science Center.

Dr. Sagdeev (pronounced sag-DAY-ev), was awarded the title of 'Hero of Socialist Labor" in 1986 for directing a multinational effort to rendezvous with Halley's Comet and became then-President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's chief science adviser. He moved to the United States in February 1990 after marrying Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

His research and writing spans a host of subjects, including plasma physics, fusion power, planetary studies, astrophysics, arms control, science policy, global security issues and the environment.

QUESTION: Both Russia and America are cutting back on some costly science projects, such as NASA's $30 billion Space Station Freedom. Is the end of the Cold War a calamity for scientists?

ANSWER: There is irony in the fact that we scientists were beneficiaries of the Cold War. We were getting a big share of research and development money precisely because of the military budgets and because of the big show our countries wanted to put on in space.

I'm sure there will be very deep and substantial reconsideration of how science and high technology should be run in a time of peace and international harmony, at least between superpowers. afraid that the budget for space programs certainly will be reduced.

The space station . . . budget already was over-inflated. NASA is considering now a cheaper station. The same already happened in the former Soviet Union.

Boris Yeltsin suspended the Russian equivalent of the shuttle program, Buran. It flew only once in 1988, and now it's suspended, after tremendous amounts of money were spent.

France, which was trying to develop science and high technology in its own way, was planning its own minishuttle, called Hermes. They have spent a noticeable sum of money, and recently decided not to proceed.

BIt's a chain reaction of reconsideration of space programs. I hope it would not be converted into a cultural revolution.

Q.: Which Russian scientists are flourishing following the collapse of the Communist state, which are suffering?

A.: The biggest beneficiaries of this second Russian revolution are the political scientists, the humanities and social sciences.

These guys are just now coming out of closets. They don't need any more to quote Marx, Lenin or directions given by the Central Committee. I envy these guys. They have tremendously, extremely interesting work to do. For example, now they have to discover the true history of Russia and the Soviet Union. Or try to develop scientific approach to economic and social reforms.

Physicists were essentially servants of the military-industrial complex. They have suffered. Almost every part of the technical and natural sciences were dependent on state contracts. Those are gone now.

Q.: Has there been an exodus of scientists from Russia and the other former Soviet states?

A.: If you try to calculate how many people left, it would be a very slim fraction. Maybe altogether, several hundred or a few thousand people. But if you would try to see who essentially is in this small group of people, you would find the most active, the most productive, the brightest people both in mathematics and in physics.

Q.: What is your view of the current struggle in Russia between President Yeltsin and the Congress of People's Deputies?

A.: I hope very much that they will be able to reach a compromise.

Eventually I think there must be a major change in the political situation, through a new constitution which would specify the role of executive and legislative branches. And eventually parliament should go. We have to have a new parliament -- in a peaceful way, through new elections.

Q: If Yeltsin goes, is democracy finished?

A.: No, I don't think so. [Congress Chairman Ruslan] Khasbulatov and Yeltsin were standing embracing each other on the barricades only a year and a half ago. So I don't think there is a big difference between their loyalty to reforms in the country. Rather they have different technical scenarios. Yeltsin, clearly, is a supporter of shock therapy. Khasbulatov, I believe, would prefer a smooth transition to market economy.

The actual bad guys, the real reactionaries, they are in the minority -- maybe no more than 10 or 15 percent in parliament. The majority are moderates who stayed behind Yeltsin on the barricades.

Q.: Will huge, expensive science projects, like the space station, increasingly become international efforts?

A.: Absolutely. We should have an international approach to space programs, high-energy physics or to any expensive venture, for example, the human genome mapping project [an effort to identify all the genes in the human genetic code].

Now we have no more taboos on international cooperation, and everything will be much simpler. I hope it will compensate for the loss of money due to the end of the Cold War, the loss of money for science.

And, of course, we will no longer feel hostages of the arms race.

Q.: America has had trouble attracting foreign support for the $8 billion Superconducting Supercollider, a particle-accelerator being built in Texas. Why?

A.: It is one of the most important projects in high-energy physics. The reason it has problems is that it was planned, invented during the Cold War.

Q.: Physics, arguably, has been the most prominent science of ** the past century. Will biology dominate in the coming century?

A.: The whole history of science is a sequence of revolutions, of bringing certain disciplines to the top. The 20th century has brought physics and space. Now we are entering the era of biology, of biotechnology.

Medicine would be, of course, the biggest beneficiary of the revolution. The only problem is, what's happening now is the development of more and more expensive medical treatments, procedures, pharmaceuticals. At a certain moment, we will have to ask the question: Are we talking about eventual immortality or not?

Q.: Some people are convinced that the U.S. government is hiding evidence of the existence of UFOs. A few even claim to have been kidnapped by aliens. Did the Soviet space program ever find evidence for UFOs?

A.: No. Besides certain accounts by eyewitnesses, there were some kinds of interference and signals on military radar screens, and so on. And in general, the scientific community firmly believes that all these phenomena could all be explained as artifacts, associated with different types of electromagnetic interference in the hardware, or natural atmospheric phenomena.

No one in Russia worries that Yeltsin's government will be kidnapped by these guys. The reactionaries, the pro-Communists, think that Yeltsin has already been kidnapped by the United States. So we don't need to invent UFOs.

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