The headaches reported by residents of a south Siberian village are not linked to the fragments of a space freighter that may have crashed in the area, a spokesman for the Roscosmos space agency said on Friday.
Ten people have complained of headaches, increased blood pressure and sore throats since the Progress M-12M space freighter fell to earth in the region after failing to separate from the Soyuz-U carrier rocket on Wednesday, a doctor at a hospital in the Karakosh village told RIA Novosti.
The fragments have yet to be found. The freighter was also carrying toxic heptyl fuel, although experts say it would have burnt up in the atmosphere. Russian medical officials have also said no trace of the fuel has been discovered.
‘If people really had been poisoned with some toxic matter, then a lot more people would have requested medical help, and their symptoms would have been a lot more serious,” the Roscosmos spokesman said.
He also suggested that “hypertension” was to blame for the reports of people feeling unwell, saying that “it’s a medically established fact that overly impressionable people with rich imaginations can feel physically unwell when influenced by their emotions.”
Fragments from Russian rockets launched from the Baikonur space centre in nearby Kazakhstan have been falling on the Altai Republic for decades. Experts estimate that some 2.5 tons of space waste have fallen on the republic in total.
In February 2008, shortly after the launch of a Proton-M rocket, a 3.5m-long rocket fragment landed a few meters from a hut belonging to an Altai shepherd. He subsequently appealed to the Russian authorities for compensation. His claim was dismissed, however, by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency that rents Baikonur.
Many locals have said that they have experienced health problems after rocket fragments have fallen near their homes. Shepherds have also claimed that their animals have become sick. Roscosmos has repeatedly stated that no toxic traces have been found in areas where rocket fragments have fallen.
After the retirement of the U.S. shuttle fleet earlier this summer, Russian Soyuz craft became the only way for astronauts to reach the ISS until at least the middle of the decade. NASA is paying its Russian counterpart Roscosmos more than $1 billion for crew transport services over the next four years.
The Soyuz-U carrier rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan and was scheduled to separate at 5:09 p.m. Moscow time [13:09 GMT]. The source said the engine failure made it impossible for the spacecraft to achieve the required orbital velocity.