RUSSIA JOURNAL -- 1999 ( Part 1: Russian Rockets and the Power of Goodness)

NOTE TO READER: On May 14, 2000, I received word that the very first American rocket equipped with a Russian RD180 rocket engine had blasted off from launch pad 36B at Cape Canaveral, Florida. My eyes raced to read the details. The propulsion system designed and built by the Russians had launched the inaugural Lockheed Martin Atlas III rocket carrying a Eutelsat W4 communications satellite into active duty. I shivered. In 1996, I had the opportunity of becoming friends with Robert Ford, Lockheed Martin’s program manager. He loved what we were doing around the world with Project C.U.R.E., and teams of employees and executives from Lockheed Martin would frequently come to Project C.U.R.E. and help us sort materials, pack cases of medical goods, and help us load the ocean-going cargo containers. One day, Robert explained to me that they had recently been dealing with the scientists at the highly secured Khimki scientific complex near the Moscow airport. Since the political demise of the country and the economic bankruptcy of their system, even the most respected scientists and technicians of the old Federation had been cut off along with their families from any access to medical services or salaries. The hospitals were empty of the most basic medical supplies, and even their polyclinics were without simple essentials. “As a community of fellow scientists,” said Robert, “we would like to come along side our new Russian acquaintances and their families and help them out in their time of medical need. We have worked with Project C.U.R.E. in the past and would be proud to have you partner with us to see if we can make a difference.

 I have chosen to share here with you the Travel Journal of May 1999 to give you a taste of our involvement in that historic occasion.

Monday, May 24, 1999: London England: I was up at 3:15 this morning. I needed to pack, check out of my London hotel room, walk the length of St. James’s Park and Green Park, and catch the Airbus to Heathrow at Hyde Park Corner Station. My flight was an early flight to Munich, Germany. From there I transferred to a flight that took me directly to Moscow’s central airport. I was presuming that Bob Ford, supervisor at Lockheed Martin in Denver, would be at the Moscow airport to pick me up.

Moscow, Russia isn’t my favorite city in the world. I’ve been in and out of there many times, and I find myself feeling irritable and apprehensive each time I prepare to visit. I have many good friends in Russia and throughout the old Soviet Union and have fond memories associated with many of my trips. But there’s something about the city of Moscow that leaves me with feelings I can only describe as “dark.” If the Russian officials can hassle you over the slightest detail, they will. If they can take advantage of you as an American, they will. I have found that many Russians are rude even toward their own people.

Because of my previous experiences there, I was really hoping that I would spot Bob Ford just as soon as I stepped out of customs. While I was standing in line to clear customs, my mind went back to the time the customs official at Moscow arbitrarily took out of my passport my visa for Kazakhstan. I protested loudly and told him the visa was my property, and I needed it to enter Aktau as I continued my journey. The official gave me back my passport but without my Kazakhstan visa, and the only explanation I could get was that they didn’t like or approve of Kazakhstan, since they had withdrawn from the union. My further protests got me absolutely nowhere, and eventually I had to go through the process of purchasing another visa at the border of Kazakhstan.

Then my mind quickly jumped to another time when the customs officials searched me and made me count out all my money in front of them, not believing that what I had written down on the entry form was true. And then there was the time my military officer friends from Tver, Russia, fully armed with semiautomatic weapons, escorted me from Tver all the way to the Moscow airport and even stayed with me through customs because they didn’t trust their fellow Russians, especially in Moscow.

Well, when I exited customs, I didn’t spot Bob, but I did see a nice big sign reading “Dr. James Jackson.” Jim Sackett, Lockheed Martin’s representative in Moscow, and his driver were there to meet me. Bob had been detained in Denver and had to cancel the trip.

We went directly to the Aerostar Hotel, where I checked in. The accommodations at the Aerostar were superior to any I had experienced on previous trips. Jim Sackett, an American engineer in his thirties, has been in Russia for six years, living there with his American wife and four-year-old daughter. He speaks Russian quite well but told me he still relies on translators when he’s involved in technical meetings. Jim will be my host during my stay in Moscow.

Allow me to review Project C.U.R.E.’s involvement with Lockheed Martin, the American industrial giant; NPO Energomash; and the aerospace rocket complex of Russia.

A couple of years ago, Lockheed Martin officials in Colorado contacted Project C.U.R.E. to see if we were still donating medical supplies to people in the old Soviet Union. They had run across a group of Russians who desperately needed medical help, and they told us that if Project C.U.R.E. would furnish the medical goods, Lockheed Martin would underwrite the shipping expense.

The joint project was very successful. The top Lockheed Martin officials pitched in and helped load the container of goods out of our Denver warehouse. Their public-relations cameras busily clicked away, and it became a humanitarian gesture of some distinction for both Lockheed Martin and Project C.U.R.E. The targeted recipients were the rocket and aerospace families of Russia who had been disenfranchised and abandoned when the Soviet Union split and went bankrupt.

Earlier this year, Lockheed Martin once again contacted me and wanted to talk about a five-year program of helping the hospitals and clinics of Khimki, the NPO Energomash community.

The purpose of this trip to Moscow is for Project C.U.R.E. to conduct a complete Needs Assessment Study of the hospitals and clinics in the area to better determine what would be appropriate to send to them over a five-year period.

Once I checked into my hotel, I sat down with Jim Sackett and reviewed the agenda for the days I will be here. Before I went to bed, the personnel at the front desk notified me of a potential problem I might have with my Russian visa. The woman said, “Dr. Jackson, you say you will stay with us through the night of May 27 and check out on the 28th. But it’s against Russian law for a hotel to rent a room to a person whose visa has expired. Your visa expires at midnight on May 26. I think you have a big problem.”

I thought to myself, Why am I surprised that I’m being hassled over a technical problem here in Moscow? I told the lady at the desk that I’ll look into the problem tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 25

This morning Jim Sackett and his driver picked me up at the Aerostar Hotel, and we drove to the gated city of Khimki . Some of the tightest security in the world exists within those walls and beyond those fences. It was there the Russians designed, developed, prototyped, built, tested, and installed the world’s most powerful and most efficient rockets. US scientists developed their products with an entirely different design and philosophy. No one has ever disputed the superiority of Russian rockets over any others developed to date. And over the years, it had all taken place right where I was now standing.

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Lockheed Martin never needed to be convinced of the superior design and function of the Russian rockets. Lockheed had produced the American rockets that put satellites into orbit and launched American astronauts into space and even onto the moon. And they had developed military systems with rockets capable of delivering megatons of nonnuclear and nuclear warheads anywhere in the world, So as soon as the economic and political systems of the Soviet Union crumbled, Lockheed immediately sought to purchase all the remaining Russian rocket engines in existence.

By purchasing the inventory of Soviet rocket engines, Lockheed Martin accomplished at least three things within the global market and aerospace culture: (1) The US aerospace program was able to sop up all the inventories of rockets in Russia, adding to national security in the US; (2) Lockheed Martin would be able to corner the market on supplying rocket engines for future space travel and launching commercial satellites and exploration vehicles; and (3) the advanced technology of the Russian aerospace program, including hard-metal merchandise and Russian intelligence and manpower, would be available to the American space program for development. Perhaps an additional benefit is that when Boris Yeltsin signed the agreement with Lockheed Martin, certain sums of money and benefits began to flow back into the Russian aerospace community to keep the scientists and their families from starving.

The thing that amazed me when I became involved in observing the huge, historic agreement that took place between the Russian space industry and the American space industry was how encompassing and successful the cross-country venture became in such a short period of time. Driven by such basic free-market economic principles like scarcity, choice, and cost; division of labor; supply and demand; and just the simple profit benefits of a compatible deal, the transaction in itself became a great example of free enterprise for the world and, especially, the old Marxist-Communist diehards to see in action.

As I’ve become more and more involved in the venture, the more proud I’ve grown of the strength of the free-enterprise system I stand for and believe in. I have promoted such concepts to eager learners here at home through books and seminars, but never knew I would play even a small part in global free enterprise through the agreement between the US space industry and rocket scientists here in the old Soviet Union.

At 10:00 a.m., I had the opportunity to meet with some of the main players of the Lockheed–NPO Energomash joint venture—Dr. Victor Sigaev, the general director of NPO Energomash; Dr. Vasily Vaculin, deputy general director; Dr. Arthur Boitsov, deputy general director; and Lockheed Martin representatives. The meeting was scheduled for a full two hours, and we took every minute. 

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I was briefed on the NPO Energomash rocket venture and then was introduced to the top medical officials from Moscow and Khimki. I was then given an opportunity to explain what Project C.U.R.E. will be doing to further aid and encourage the venture by supplying medical goods and equipment to the hospitals and clinics in and around Khimki and Moscow. I probably don’t need to tell you how well Project C.U.R.E. was received when the Russian officials realized that their families could soon be receiving humanitarian aid in the form of medical supplies, which they have done without since before the fall of the Soviet Union.

Dr. Alexander Novikov is the chief director over eighteen hospitals and polyclinics in Moscow, including the 1,200-bed city hospital; Dr. Boris Pavlov is the deputy chief of the 800-bed Novogorsk hospital, which is the flagship hospital of the Khimki community; Dr. Galina Monastyrskaya is chief of the children’s polyclinic; Dr. Gorbachevsky is chief of the entire Khimki area; and Dr. Ludmila Levashova and Dr. Nina Fatsarova serve respectively as director and deputy director of the NPO Energomash polyclinic. They have all joined together to work with Project C.U.R.E. 

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Margarita Kirillova, who has been a career space official for the Russians for over twenty-five years in Khimki, was our translator. At her insistence, we broke for lunch at noon, but our discussions regarding the medical needs around Moscow could have extended well into the afternoon.

Lunch was lovely and was spiked with generous toasts that left me creatively figuring out how to dodge having to drink their vodka and other alcoholic drinks. Afterward, I walked into an experience I shall never forget. Passing all kinds of security, I was led right into the building complex where the designing, building, and testing of the famous Russian rockets takes place. Jim Sackett, the Lockheed engineer, leaned over to me and said, “You are now among a very small handful of officials from the West who have ever been permitted to pass through these doors and see what you will now see.” I thought how much James Bond would have given twenty years ago to be in my shoes!

Next Week: One of the Family