Russian farmer sues space agency for falling rocket

BARNAUL, Russia Wed Mar 26, 2008 1:58pm EDT

Russian Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraft is set on a launch pad at Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan September 18, 2006. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Russian Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraft is set on a launch pad at Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan September 18, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov

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BARNAUL, Russia (Reuters) - A shepherd is suing Russia's space agency for compensation after he said a 10-foot-long chunk of metal from a space rocket fell into his yard, just missing his outdoor toilet.

Boris Urmatov, who is asking for 1 million roubles ($42,000) from the Roskosmos agency, lives in a small village that lies underneath the flight path of rockets taking off from the Baikonur launchpad Russia leases in nearby Kazakhstan.

"Something woke him up in the night, like something exploded. Since he's visually handicapped he didn't notice the fallen rocket parts," Urmatov's sister Marina told Reuters from the village of Kyrlyk, in Russia's Altai region.

"But in the morning in front of the shepherd hut he saw this enormous metal casing, as smooth as an egg," she said by telephone from the village, which is 2,175 miles east of Moscow. "It nearly crushed the outhouse."

She said her brother was seeking damages to compensate him for the stress he suffered.

Residents in the neighboring village of Ust-Kan said rocket pieces regularly rain down on their area. Parts of the surrounding countryside are designated special zones where people may not go during the launches.

"Sometimes it's smooth metal casings, sometimes it's bolts. I remember something like an engine fell once," said Anatoly Kazakov, an Ust-Kan resident.

"THEY FLY, THEY FALL"

Roskosmos said it regularly warns residents when a launch is scheduled, and in a history stretching back over 50 years and 400 rockets, only a few space-bound rocket parts have fallen outside designated areas.

"Technologically speaking, these parts are supposed to fall off during a launch. They fly, they fall, they fly, they fall. It's how they work," said Roskosmos spokesman Alexander Vorobyov.

He said Roskosmos regularly sends out an investigation team to check on reports of damage from rocket parts, but it could only pay compensation if a court rules for damages.

"If a court determines that, yes, those are rocket parts, they fell on his land, then for sure he will be compensated. No question about it. We live in a civilized, law-abiding country," Vorobyov said.

Izvestia newspaper said Roskosmos had only once paid out compensation over rocket debris to a private individual -- 10,000 roubles in 2001 -- when a piece fell on his yard as he was outside chopping wood.

"What is abnormal is when somebody gets greedy, and it turns out the parts did not fall on his land, but that they were dragged there. Those moments are not good," Vorobyov said.

"But those are individual instances. We in no way refuse to pay out compensation. It just has to go through the court system."

(Writing by Chris Baldwin, editing by Richard Meares)

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