Vitaly Melnikov, a 77-year-old senior scientist associated with Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos, passed away on Wednesday after reportedly consuming inedible mushrooms. The unfortunate incident occurred just weeks after Russia faced an embarrassing setback in its lunar mission, where an unmanned spacecraft crashed on the moon’s surface.
Melnikov had a significant role in Russia’s space program, leading rocket and space systems at RSC Energia, Moscow’s primary spacecraft manufacturer. According to the Russian newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets, he was admitted to the hospital on August 11, coinciding with the launch of the Luna 25 robotic spacecraft from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East.
The Luna 25 spacecraft encountered issues as it prepared for a pre-landing orbit, spinning out of control and ultimately crashing into the moon. This marked Russia’s first attempt to reach the moon in 47 years, and its failure raises questions about the country’s space capabilities.
According to Melnikov’s family, he had been picking mushrooms in a forest near his Moscow residence for several years without incident. On the fateful day, he reportedly boiled the mushrooms and consumed them alone for dinner. Shortly afterward, his health deteriorated significantly, leading to his hospitalization in serious condition. Despite the efforts of medical professionals, Melnikov succumbed to his condition and passed away on Wednesday.
The tragic loss of Melnikov comes at a sensitive time for Roscosmos, casting a shadow over a program that is already grappling with recent failures. As the agency and the nation mourn the loss of a pivotal figure in Russian space exploration, questions are arising about the future direction and reliability of the country’s space initiatives.