space-age cargo cult

This is the craziest, most cyberpunk thing I've heard in years. It's straight out of "Battle Angel Alita".

Space Launch Scraps Providing Sustenance For Russian Villagers

Since the Plesetsk Space Center began operations in northern Russia forty years ago, tons of man-made debris - first stages of rockets mainly - have fallen to earth, generating both a cash opportunity for local villagers, and a source of danger, RIA Novosti recently reported.

Some villages survive only on this cosmic garbage, unable to find other ways to make ends meet.

The neighboring space center outlines the regions that have the highest risk of being exposed to space debris several days before every launch. Hunters, mushroom pickers, fishermen and reindeer breeders are all emphatically warned of the dangers of being in the area.

They do leave, but afterwards scores of local residents, some equipped with tractors, get into the area to reap little-damaged Soyuz first stages.

Soyuz carrier rockets are propelled by kerosene and oxygen, and their parts have a reputation for safety.

Older Tsiklon and Rokot carriers propelled by poisonous heptyl leave scraps that people avoid for a few years, until "self-cleaning" (as locals have coined the process) makes it safe for people to extract the metals.

Scrap metal collectors generally will not comment on how much they collect in a year but fragmented data for 2003 alone indicated that about 20 tons of "space metals" was collected.

Lesser-damaged parts are used in households: electric batteries are connected to lamps, metal sheets made of stainless alloys are used to build basements, garages, fences, water tracks and long, slim boats, much like canoes.

The Northern Medical University has studied the effect of liquid propellant components on human health - particularly where heptyl was used - and have warned that the death rate in mentioned affected areas has risen by 30%, mostly due to liver, blood and genetic diseases.

However, it has so far failed to draw a direct link from the launches to the deaths. Experts say additional studies are necessary to come to any definite conclusions.

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10 Responses:

  1. rosefox says:

    That's awesome. It could only be better if they were living on an asteroid and scavenging the stuff out of orbit.

  2. jurph says:

    I did research on rockets (esp. from the Plesetsk kosmodrome) at my last job and one of the anecdotes I found most humorous was that almost everyone out there has a snow shovel made from a curved piece of rocket-body titanium, bolted to a handle made of steel pipe.

    Also, the big pieces of carbon-fiber from the first stages can be cut (not easily), then dragged behind a tractor as a sled. Since they're light, the tractor can drag more scrap metal; since they're carbon fiber, they last longer getting dragged over ice and snow.

    And the Americans -- those fools! -- just let the carcinogen-soaked parts splash into the ocean, where nobody can ever use them. Why not send them over Montana, or Utah?

  3. jkonrath says:

    I seem to remember some story that might be an urban legend about a north Russian farmer that found a chunk of radioactive material and was basically using it as a camp stove, until someone found out it was pushing out about a bazillion rems a second.

    • baconmonkey says:

      I like the story about the kid who essentially made a breeder reactor in his back yard.

      • jkonrath says:

        I remember that. He had a geiger counter on the dash of his car and used to drive around looking for shit that might have radium in it. Once it went off the charts, and he went in a junk shop and found a wall clock that was totally hot. He bought it and took it home, and it had a whole vial of glow-in-the-dark touch-up paint inside the case.

        I wonder if that guy has to shit in lead-lined plastic bags that are hauled off to Yucca mountain or something.

        • pathwalker says:

          The last time I talked to Dave he was in good health, and talking about joining the Marines.

          It was a couple of summers ago, right after Eagle & Eagle finished their documentary on him.

          I was in his scout troop, and had some classes with him in high school while he was trying to build the reactor. If you have any questions, let me know, and I'll answer as best as I can remember.

  4. bikerwalla says:

    I'm still tickled that the Soyuz vehicle is in production. I remember seeing one of those dock with an Apollo module.

    • zonereyrie says:

      Well, they've been updated a lot. But the Russians are big into 'if it works, keep it.' They're starting to develop a replacement now and probably would've already if their economy wasn't so trashed.

      But keep in mind that the US was still launching Atlas IIs until last year, and they were a close evolution on the original Atlas. (The Atlas III was kind of a hybrid between the II and the V, and only the V is in service now and it is an all-new design. There was no IV - I've never been able to find out why... Maybe because the competing Boeing Delta went III -> IV and Lockheed decided 'V' sounded better than 'IV'.)

  5. cetan says:

    photos of some of the debris and the people that use it: