Bridenstine Rescinds Rogozin Invitation

Bridenstine Rescinds Rogozin Invitation

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has rescinded the invitation to his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Rogozin, to visit the United States after an earlier statement that the trip would be “postponed.”  The action comes in response to mounting congressional opposition to Rogozin being allowed to come to the United States in spite of the fact that he is under U.S. sanctions for his role in Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Bridenstine invited Rogozin to the United States several months ago, but it only became widely known outside space circles on January 1 when Politico published a story sharply criticizing the move.  It characterized Rogozin as “an ultranationalist politician with a record of stark racism and homophobia.”

Politico quoted two Senators, Mark Warner (D-VA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), expressing reservations about inviting a sanctioned Russian to the United States.  Two more, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) subsequently called on Bridenstine to withdraw the invitation.

Warner is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.  Shaheen is the top Democrat on the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and is also a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Menendez is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Shaheen is also a member.

Cruz is the chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee that authorizes NASA activities.

Yesterday, Bridenstine’s press secretary, Megan Powers, issued a statement that NASA had informed the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, that Rogozin’s visit “will need to be postponed.”  It was planned for next month.

Bridenstine went further later in an interview with the Washington Post.  According to an email from Powers today, Bridenstine spoke with the Post “late last evening” and said:

“We had heard from numerous senators suggesting that this was not a good idea and I wanted to be accommodating to the interest of the senators, so I have rescinded the invitation for Dmitry Rogozin to  visit the US. However we will continue our strong working relationship with Russia as it relates to the International Space Station and sending our astronauts into space.” — Jim Bridenstine

As confirmed by Powers, Bridenstine did not consult the White House, including the National Space Council or the National Security Council, in either issuing or rescinding the invitation.  Before issuing the invitation, he worked through an interagency process that included the Treasury Department, which implements sanctions, and the State Department. Powers said NASA officially informed Roscosmos that the invitation was rescinded via telephone.

Rogozin was Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister is charge of the aerospace and defense sectors from 2011-2018.  He is well known for his intemperate remarks about space cooperation with the United States after he was sanctioned in 2014.  As Deputy Prime Minister, he oversaw Roscosmos.  In May 2018, Russian President Vladmir Putin dismissed him as Deputy Prime Minister and assigned him as the Director General of Roscosmos, which was viewed as a demotion.  He initially appeared to moderate his behavior, but raised hackles again in early September when he insinuated that astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) had intentionally drilled a hole into the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft docked there.

He and Bridenstine spoke by phone in mid-September and agreed to refrain from making conclusions until the investigation is complete.  Russia’s state commission has not released its results yet.

The two met for the first time in October 2018 for the Soyuz MS-10 launch.  The launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan suffered a malfunction two minutes into flight when a side booster did not detach properly and hit the core booster, destroying the rocket. The crew capsule, with American Nick Hague and Russian Aleksey Ovchinin aboard, automatically separated and the two men landed safely and were quickly rescued.  They were flown back to Baikonur where Bridenstine was among those welcoming them back. Both already have been assigned to a new mission scheduled for launch in February.

NASA astronaut Nick Hague (center left) is welcomed back to the Baikonur Cosmodrome by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (center right) after the Soyuz MS-10 launch failure. Oct. 11, 2018. Credit: NASA

It was during that visit that Bridenstine invited Rogozin to the United States to discuss future space cooperation. The ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries working through the European Space Agency.  NASA is discussing future cooperation with all the partners, as well as other countries and companies, as it develops plans for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.

Russia joined the ISS partnership in 1993 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the United States terminated the space shuttle program in 2011, Russia is the only country that can ferry crews back and forth.  NASA pays Russia for those crew transport services, currently about $82 million per seat.  NASA hopes that two new U.S. “commercial crew” systems, built by SpaceX and Boeing, will be operational in 2019.

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