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Several space history articles written by one author and published in venues like Ars Technica appear to be plagiarized from other sources.

Plagiarism in several space history articles

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Similarities between the May 2013 Ars Technica and January 2010 Air & Space article

In January 2010 Air & Space magazine published our article “Soviet Star Wars” in its print edition and online. The article concerned the development by the Soviet Union of several technical responses to Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, which was first announced in 1983. These efforts culminated in the May 1987 launch of the large Energia rocket carrying the “Polyus-Skif” spacecraft on its side. Polyus-Skif is best understood as a prototype of a prototype laser system that would have been used to attack orbiting American anti-missile satellites as well as possibly other American military spacecraft. The vehicle failed to reach proper orbit, however, and the program was canceled.

We originally started writing our article in fall 2006, after the publication of a lengthy Russian-language journal article about Polyus-Skif, “[the] Star Wars That Never Were”, written by Mr. Konstantin Lantratov, an engineer with journalistic ability who worked in the Soviet and Russian space programs. Mr. Kennedy reads, writes, and speaks Russian: in 1996–7, he co-produced and released with Russian publishers and official archival sources an encyclopedic history of the Soviet space program on CD-ROM, in both Russian and English, for markets all over the world. This included hitherto unreleased footage of the co-orbital antisatellite platform (Istrebitel Sputnikov) as well as footage of the maiden flight of the Energia superbooster with the Polyus-Skif payload on May 15, 1987.

Our original goal was to produce a careful translation of the entire Lantratov article, with ample annotations to provide context, before obtaining permission from Mr. Lantratov to publish the translation in a specialist journal, intended for the 20th anniversary of the event in 2007. In early 2007, Soviet space historian Asif Siddiqi published his own English-language translation of Lantratov’s article (with permission) in Quest magazine. At that point, we abandoned our plans to publish a direct annotated translation of Lantratov’s article and instead decided to turn it into a popular article for Air & Space magazine, which accepted it for publication in 2009.

We referenced Lantratov’s original article and name extensively in our piece, mentioning him by name six times. After we had finished our own heavily annotated translation, with the assistance of one of Mr. Kennedy’s business partner’s son, Anton Smirnov, we interviewed Siddiqi, who was aware of details of how Mr. Lantratov prepared his article for publication. In November 2008, we also interviewed Peter Westwick, a historian who had written about Soviet-era missile defense systems. Finally, we interviewed retired CIA analyst Allen Thomson, who in 1983 wrote a classified assessment of possible Soviet responses to the American Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Mr. Thomson’s 1983 report has been declassified and is available on the Internet. We incorporated these interviews into our article, including direct quotes where appropriate.

Ms. Teitel’s May 15 article made no reference to us or our article, Lantratov or his article, or any of the sources we used. Indeed, it mentioned no sources at all. In at least one instance she took a quote from one of the people we interviewed, deleted the quotation marks, and altered it slightly for her own text. A side-by-side comparison of the two articles below indicates that she rewrote our article and claimed it as her own original work.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
It sounds like something from a James Bond movie: a massive satellite, the largest ever launched, equipped with a powerful laser to take out the American anti-missile shield in advance of a Soviet first strike. It was real, though—or at least the plan was. In fact, when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev walked out of the October 1986 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, because President Ronald Reagan wouldn't abandon his Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI, the Soviets were closer to fielding a space-based weapon than the United States was. Less than a year later, as the world continued to criticize Reagan for his “Star Wars” concept, the Soviet Union launched a test satellite for its own space-based laser system, which failed to reach orbit. Had it succeeded, the cold war might have taken a different turn.

Ars Technica:
Reagan’s plan naturally compelled them to act.

The Soviet response was a hushed effort that came with the potential to roar. Leadership fast-tracked a space weapons system they hoped would disable US anti-missile satellites. The gist of this plan? The Soviets would use their own space program to launch weapons into orbit: nuclear missiles and lasers.

This push culminated in the Polyus-Skif mission launched on May 15, 1987. History (and, eventually, maybe a season of The Americans) shows that the initiative failed to reach orbit. But had Polyus-Skif succeeded, space would be a very different place—and the Cold War may have played out differently.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
The spacecraft was known as Polyus-Skif. “Polyus” is Russian for “pole,” as in the north pole. “Skif” referred to the Scythians, an ancient tribe of warriors in central Asia— and the European equivalent of “barbarian.”

Ars Technica:
(Skif is also called Polyus-Skif—polyus being the Russian word for pole [as in the North Pole] and Skif referring to an ancient tribe of warriors in central Asia. )

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
Both projects had been simmering at the Salyut (now Khrunichev) bureau within Energia, and experiments with high-powered lasers for anti-missile work had been under way since 1981. So far the work had been confined to the laboratory, however. Now, in the wake of Reagan’s speech, the rubles started flowing for actual flight hardware. The motive wasn't so much fear that the SDI might prevent Soviet missiles from reaching their targets, but something more ominous, and weirder: a conviction that the Americans were about to set up battle stations in space.

Ars Technica:
By 1983, both the Polyus-Skif and Kaskad projects had been simmering in laboratories for years, undergoing preliminary tests at the Salyut bureau within Energia. But SDI was the catalyst both projects needed to get moving. If Reagan was proposing that America set up a battle station in space—which the Soviet leadership suspected might be the case—they wanted to be ready. The rubles started pouring in after Reagan’s speech, and work accelerated as concepts turned into hardware.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
But the ABM Treaty forbade only the deployment of anti-missile weapons, not testing or development, a loophole both sides exploited.

Ars Technica:
There was a major oversight in both the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty: neither prohibited the signatories from investigating and researching space-based defense systems. Naturally, both countries exploited this loophole.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
With such frightening scenarios in mind, the Soviet military accelerated work on the Polyus-Skif laser cannon to destroy SDI satellites. Up until then, the plan had been to use a powerful laser built by the Astrofizika design bureau. But that program had fallen behind; the Astrofizika laser and its power systems were too big and heavy for existing rockets to launch. So when Soviet engineers were told to pick up the pace on Skif, they came up with an interim plan. They would adapt a small, one-megawatt carbon dioxide laser that had already been tested on an Il-76 transport aircraft as a weapon against missiles. In August 1984, the new spacecraft was approved and designated Skif-D, the “D” standing for the Russian word for “demonstration.” By January 1986, the Politburo had designated the project as one of the Soviet space program’s highest-priority satellites.

Engineers at the Salyut design bureau soon realized that the laser and its power system— even the smaller one already tested on an aircraft— were still too big for the Proton rocket. But a bigger launcher was in the pipeline: The Energia rocket, named after its design bureau, was being built to carry the new Buran space shuttle into orbit. Energia could carry 95 tons to space, so it could carry Skif-D. The rocket was switched. To keep costs down, engineers looked for other existing hardware to modify and incorporate, including elements of Buran and a part of the canceled Almaz military space station designated the TKS, which later became the core module of the Mir space station.

Ars Technica:
But an influx of any currency could only do so much to make a new satellite flight ready. In the interest of launching a spacecraft sooner, Soviet leaders came up with an interim plan: adapt a small, one-megawatt carbon dioxide laser and turn it into a Polyus-Skif testbed. It was a piece of hardware that had already been tested as a weapon against missiles while mounted on an Il-76 transport aircraft. In August 1984, the interim spacecraft was approved and designated Skif-D, the “D” standing for the Russian word for “demonstration.”

There was another problem. Even the smaller Skif-D was too big for the Soviet Proton launch vehicle. But as luck would have it, there was a bigger rocket already in the pipeline. The Energia rocket, named after its design bureau, was designed to carry the Buran space shuttle into orbit. It was an immensely powerful rocket, capable of carrying 95 tons into space. It could handle Skif-D without a problem.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
Skif-D grew into a Frankenstein’s monster: 131 feet long, more than 13 feet in diameter, and weighing 210,000 pounds, more massive than NASA’s Skylab space station. The complex consisted of what the Russians called a “functional block” and a “purposeful module.” The functional block was equipped with small rocket engines to place the vehicle into its final orbit. It also included a power system, using solar panels borrowed from Almaz. The purposeful module carried carbon dioxide tanks and two turbo-generators to produce the laser’s power, as well as the heavy rotating turret, which pointed the beam. The Polyus spacecraft was built long and thin so that it could fit on the side of the Energia, attached to its central fuel tank.

Ars Technica:
The spacecraft that emerged was a monster: 131 feet long and slightly more than 13 feet in diameter. In total it weighed 210,000 pounds. Skif-D dwarfed NASA’s Skylab space station. Fortunately for its designers, it was long and thin enough to fit on the side of the Energia, running along its central fuel tank.

Skif-D had two major components: a “functional block” and a “purposeful module.” The functional block housed small rocket engines used to place the payload into its final orbit, as well as a power system made from solar panels borrowed from Almaz. The purposeful module carried carbon dioxide tanks and two turbo-generators. These were the systems that produced the laser’s power— the turbo-generators pumped the stored carbon dioxide, exciting the atoms until they emitted light.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
Designing a laser cannon to work in orbit was no small engineering challenge. A hand-held laser pointer is a relatively simple, static device, but a big gas-powered laser is like a roaring locomotive. Powerful turbo-generators “pump” the carbon dioxide until its atoms become excited and emit light. The turbo-generators have large moving parts, and the gas used in the formation of the laser beam gets very hot, so it has to be vented. Moving parts and exhaust gases induce motion, which poses problems for spacecraft—particularly one that has to be pointed very precisely. The Polyus engineers developed a system to minimize the force of the expelled gas by sending it through deflectors. But the vehicle still required a complex control system to dampen motions caused by the exhaust gases, the turbo-generator, and the moving laser turret. (When firing, the entire spacecraft would be pointed at the target, with the turret making fine adjustments. )

Ars Technica:
The challenge was that the turbo-generators were large moving parts, and the gas got so hot it had to be vented. These actions imparted enough motion to the spacecraft that it made the space-based laser incredibly imprecise. To counter these oscillations, Polyus engineers developed a system that sent the expelled gas through deflectors, and they added a turret to make fine adjustments to the laser’s aim.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
The system was complicated enough that by 1985, the designers knew that testing its components would require more than one launch. The basic Skif-D1 spacecraft structure was proved out in 1987, while the laser wouldn’t fly until Skif-D2, in 1988. Around the same time, another, related spacecraft went into development. Designated Skif-Stilet (Scythian-Stiletto), it was to be equipped with a weaker infrared laser based on an operational ground-based system. Skif-Stilet could only blind enemy satellites by targeting their optics. Polyus would have enough energy to destroy a spacecraft in low Earth orbit.

Work on these projects was proceeding at a furious pace throughout 1985 when an unexpected opportunity arose. The Buran shuttle had fallen behind schedule, and wouldn’t be ready in time for the planned first launch of the Energia rocket in 1986. The rocket’s designers were considering launching a dummy payload instead, and Skif's designers saw an opening: Why not test some of the components of their spacecraft earlier than scheduled?

They quickly drew up plans for a vehicle that would test the functional block’s control system and additional components, like the gas ejection vents and a targeting system, consisting of a radar and a low-power fine pointing laser, that would be used in conjunction with the big chemical laser. They labeled the spacecraft Skif-DM, for “demonstration model.” Launch was scheduled for fall 1986, which would not affect the launch of Skif-D1, planned for the summer of 1987.

Ars Technica:
Engineers finally realized that the whole Skif system was so immensely complicated that each component would have to be tested on a separate mission before a full station could be launched. This setback was overlooked, though, when a launch opportunity arose in 1985. The Buran shuttle was falling badly behind schedule and wouldn't be ready for the planned first launch of the Energia rocket, scheduled for late in 1986. Energia’s designers wanted to launch a dummy payload in Buran’s place so they could test their rocket, but Skif's designers stepped in to take over the launch. The first Energia would carry Polyus-Skif into orbit.

Having a launch opportunity so close on the horizon forced Polyus’ designers to come up with another interim mission. The decision was made to test the functional block's control system, the gas ejection vents, and the laser targeting system; the spacecraft would not fly with a functioning laser. This new spacecraft was christened Skif-DM—D for demonstration and M for “maket,” the Russian word for “dummy” —and scheduled to launch in the fall of 1986.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
Meeting such a tight deadline had a human cost. At one point, more than 70 firms within the Soviet aerospace industry were working on Polyus-Skif. In his history of the project, Lantratov quotes from an article by Yuri Kornilov, the lead Skif-DM designer at the Khrunichev Machine Building Factory: “As a rule, no excuses were accepted—not even the fact that it was almost the same group of people who, at that time, were performing the grandiose work associated with the creation of Buran. Everything took a back seat to meeting the deadlines assigned from the top.”

Ars Technica:
By January 1986, the Politburo had designated Polyus-Skif as one of the Soviet space program's highest-priority satellites. At one point, more than 70 firms within the Soviet aerospace industry were working on the program. There were no excuses for workers running behind schedule, not even the fact that most involved were also fighting to keep the Buran program from falling further behind.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
The designers realized that once they launched the huge craft into space and it expelled large amounts of carbon dioxide, American intelligence analysts would observe the gas and quickly figure out that it was intended for a laser. So the Soviets switched to a combination of xenon and krypton for the Skif-DM venting test. These gases would interact with ionospheric plasma around Earth, and the spacecraft would appear to be part of a civilian geophysics experiment. Skif-DM would also be equipped with small inflatable balloon targets, mimicking enemy satellites, that would be jettisoned in flight and tracked with the radar and the pointing laser.

Ars Technica:
As the launch neared, Soviet engineers started figuring out the mission’s cover stories. Polyus’ designers knew that when such a huge craft appeared in orbit and started expelling large amounts of gas, it wouldn’t escape notice of the American intelligence analysts. They also knew that the gases expelled from the spacecraft would be a dead giveaway that the system was intended for a laser.

To cover the spacecraft’s true purpose, engineers switched the gas for Skif-DM’s vent test to a combination of xenon and krypton. These gases interact with ionospheric plasma around Earth. If anyone asked, the Soviets could say it was part of a civilian geophysical experiment. Another of Skif-DM’ s tests, the laser targeting system tests, called for the satellite to release small inflatable balloon targets it could then track with its radar and pointing laser. The balloons could just as easily be targets in a test of the spacecraft’s automated rendezvous and docking system.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
In January 1987, with Skif-DM’s launch just weeks away, Gorbachev's allies in the Politburo pushed through an order limiting what could be done during the demonstration flight. The spacecraft could be launched into orbit, but could not test the gas venting system or deploy any of the tracking targets. Even while the vehicle was on the pad, an order came down requiring several of the targets to be removed, but spacecraft engineers pointed out the dangers of interacting with a fueled rocket, and the order was canceled. Still, the number of experiments was reduced.

Ars Technica:
With failed negotiations available to him, Gorbachev decided to use them as part of a new propaganda plan against the American SDI. Suddenly, the demonstration of gas venting and target sighting fit into this vision. An order came down from the top layers of government to change the mission. All “battle station” experiments were cancelled; the spacecraft could be launched into orbit, but the gas venting system could not be tested and the tracking targets could not be deployed. In January of 1987, with Skif-DM’s launch weeks away, a formal order came from Gorbachev’s allies in the Politburo that turned the mission into a passive one.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
That spring, as the booster lay horizontally inside a vast assembly building at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Skif-DM was mated to its Energia rocket. Technicians then painted two names on the spacecraft. One was "Polyus." The other was "Mir-2," for the proposed civilian space station that Energia’s leadership hoped to build. According to Polyus historian Lantratov, that may have been less an attempt to fool foreign spies about the mission's purpose than an advertisement for the Energia company's new project.

The rocket was rolled out to the launch pad and hoisted to the vertical launch position. Then, on the night of May 15, 1987, Energia’s engines lit and the giant rocket climbed into the sky. Whereas most launches from Baikonur head for an orbit inclined 52 degrees to the equator, Polyus-Skif traveled farther north, on a 65-degree inclination. If the worst happened, this heading would keep rocket stages and debris—or the entire Skif-DM— from falling on foreign territory.

The Energia rocket performed flawlessly, gaining speed as it rose and arced out toward the northern Pacific.

[…]

Skif-DM separated on cue, the spent Energia fell away, and the protective shroud over the front of the spacecraft separated.

Ars Technica:
Early in 1987, the Skif-DM satellite was mated to its Energia booster inside an assembly building at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Technicians painted the payload black to maximize solar heating in orbit and then added two names on the spacecraft: “Polyus,” how the spacecraft would be introduced to the world after launch, and “Mir-2,” the name of the proposed civilian space station that Energia’s leadership hoped to build. Finally mated, the rocket was rolled out to the launch pad and hoisted to the vertical launch position.

It sat on the pad for more than three months; the launch was postponed to coincide with Gorbachev’s scheduled visit to the Cosmodrome. He arrived on May 12 for a tour of the Energia facilities and an up-close look at the Energia-Polyus. Throughout the visit, he made several remarks to suggest that his support for the program as a whole was waning. He questioned Buran’s (and, by extension the Energia rocket’s) necessity and voiced his opposition to the militarization of space. But he also gave Skif-DM his official green light for launch. When the Soviet news agency TASS issued a report on Gorbachev’s visit to the Cosmodrome, it mentioned that a new rocket was ready on the launch pad. It was the first the world heard of Energia.

At 9:30 in the evening Moscow time on May 15, 1987, Energia’s engines roared to life for the first time. The giant rocket lifted off the launch pad. It climbed into the sky, pitching 65-degrees on a trajectory that ensured if the worst happened —if the whole thing exploded and rained burning shrapnel from the sky—it wouldn’t fall on foreign territory and become an international incident.

But fears of a launch failure were unrealized. Energia performed flawlessly, gaining speed as it rose and arced out toward the northern Pacific. Right on cue, Skif-DM separated from rocket; the spent rocket and the protective shroud over the spacecraft fell away.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
[…]. But the kludged nature of the Skif–DM test spacecraft, along with all the compromises and shortcuts, spelled its doom. The satellite’s functional block had originally been designed for the Proton launcher, and couldn’t withstand the vibration of the Energia’s more powerful engines. The solution had been to mount the spacecraft with the control block at the top instead of down near the engines. Essentially, it flew into space upside down. Once the spacecraft separated from its booster, it was supposed to flip around to point away from Earth, with the control block’s engines facing down toward Earth, ready to fire and push the craft into orbit.

[…]. Then the entire spacecraft, as tall as a 12-story building, began its gentle pitch maneuver. Its tail end, actually the front of the spacecraft, swung up through 90 degrees, through 180 degrees…then kept going. The massive spacecraft tumbled end over end for two full revolutions, then stopped with its nose pointing down toward Earth. In the rush to launch such a complicated spacecraft, the designers had missed a tiny software error. The engines fired, and Skif-DM headed back into the atmosphere it had just escaped, quickly overheating and breaking into burning pieces over the Pacific Ocean.

Ars Technica:
Flying on its own, Polyus-Skif had to execute one key maneuver: it had to flip itself over before igniting its engines. Because the satellite was so rushed in its production, the functional block was a repurposed unit originally designed for the Proton rocket. It wasn’t built to sustain the vibrations of the Energia’s much more powerful engines. The quick fix had been to mount the spacecraft with the control block at the top of the stack instead of at the bottom near the engines. The spacecraft needed to flip over, putting the control block’s engines facing down toward Earth before firing its main engines to achieve orbit.

This one command failed. The rushed production behind the Skif–DM— all the compromises and shortcuts— had left an erroneous line of code in the computer. The spacecraft flipped itself over twice, then stopped with its nose pointing to the Earth. When the engines fired, Skif-DM headed straight back toward the Earth. It broke up and burned as it reentered the atmosphere.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
In the West, the debut of the Energia super-rocket was reported as a partial success; though the satellite had failed, the launcher itself operated perfectly. The U.S. government almost certainly had intelligence sensors pointed at the rocket as it flew, but what the CIA or other agencies concluded about the payload remains classified.

The failure of Polyus-Skif, combined with its immense expense, gave the program’s opponents the ammunition they needed to kill it. Further Skif flights were canceled. Hardware being prepared was either scrapped or shoved to the sides of giant warehouses. And the laser never got close enough to launching for anyone to judge whether it would have worked.

In his history of the project, Lantratov quotes Yuri Kornilov, the Skif-DM lead designer: “Of course, no one received any prizes or awards for their feverish, two-year-long, under-the-deadline work. The hundreds of teams that had created Polyus were not given an award or a word of thanks.” In fact, after the Skif-DM fiasco, some were reprimanded or demoted.

We still don’t know the entire story. “Even today, there’s a lot of sensitivity about the whole program,” says Siddiqi. “Russians don’t like to talk too much about it. And our understanding of Soviet responses to SDI still remains murky. It’s clear that there was a lot of internal debate within the Soviet military-industrial elite about the effectiveness of space weapons. And the fact that the Soviets came so close to actually launching a weapon platform suggests that the hardliners were in the driver’s seat. It’s scary to think what might have happened if Polyus had actually made it to orbit.”

Ars Technica:
In the West, the debut of the Energia rocket was reported as a partial success. And this is true. Although the satellite failed to achieve orbit, the rocket operated perfectly. It was a great coup for Energia, but it wasn’t enough to save the Polyus-Skif and Kaskad programs. Skif-DM’s failure, combined with the single mission’s incredible cost, gave the program's opponents the ammunition they needed to kill it. Further Skif flights were canceled. Hardware was scrapped. The laser never got close enough to launching for anyone to judge whether it would have worked against American satellites. None of the hundreds of engineers that had created Polyus and enabled Skif-DM were recognized for their efforts.

Details about the Polyus launch and spacecraft remain elusive. Records are likely buried deep in inaccessible Russian archives, as are documents recording the Soviet leadership’s reaction to Reagan’s SDI speech. Official government reports about the American reaction to the Polyus-Skif launch are similarly buried. It’s a seldom discussed mission, but it’s clear that the merits and efficiency of space-based weapons were very nearly explored with functioning hardware. It’s troubling to think what would have happened had Polyus-Skif actually made it to orbit, how the Americans might have responded, and what kind of space arms race might have ensued.

AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE:
Russian space engineers, who are known for being pack rats, may have had the last laugh. The first component of the International Space Station to be launched was the Russian Zarya (“Dawn”) module, also known as the Functional Cargo Block. The vehicle was built in the mid-1990s, under contract to NASA, by the enterprising engineers at the Khrunichev factory, who produced it on time and on budget. The main purpose of Zarya is to supply electrical power and to reboost the station, the same role the Skif’s functional block would have served. Some Soviet space watchers believe that Zarya began life as a flight spare originally built for the Polyus program. Dusting off old but perfectly usable hardware—or even just blueprints—would certainly have helped Khrunichev meet its production schedule for the space station module during the economic chaos that prevailed in Russia after the cold war. It's only speculation, but if true, it would mean that the old Soviet Union ultimately succeeded in getting a tiny piece of its Star Wars system into orbit. The irony is that the American taxpayer picked up the tab.

Ars Technica:
As for what happened to the scrapped parts of the cancelled Skif missions, there are rumors that the hardware was appropriated into the International Space Station. The first piece of the ISS launched was the Russian Zarya (“Dawn”) module, also known as the Functional Cargo Block. It supplies electrical power and the ability to reboost the station, the same role the Skif's functional block was designed to serve. It’s possible Zarya began life as a spare built for the Polyus program or that it was built off old Polyus blueprints, either of which would explain the fact that Zarya was delivered on time and under budget.

There is one additional aspect of this worth noting. Ms. Teitel’s article stated: “As for what happened to the scrapped parts of the cancelled Skif missions, there are rumors that the hardware was appropriated into the International Space Station.” In fact, those “rumors” came from Mr. Kennedy and his Russian colleagues who had privately noted back in 2001, but never published in any venue until our Air & Space article, the similarities in the hardware. Our article was the sole appearance of this admittedly speculative hypothesis in print anywhere.

As noted, Ars Technica found sufficient cause to remove Ms. Teitel’s article soon after being notified of the similarities to our article.

page 3: Similarities between the September 2012 DVICE.com article and Andy Chaikin’s Lunokhod article for Air & Space >>