NASA Postpones Rogozin Visit as Opposition Grows

NASA Postpones Rogozin Visit as Opposition Grows

NASA has postponed a visit from Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s Roscosmos space state corporation, in response to growing congressional opposition.  Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee that funds NASA, was the latest Senator to urge Bridenstine to rescind the invitation “before Congress is forced to take action.”  Rogozin is under U.S. sanctions for his role in the annexation of Crimea in 2014 when he was a Russian Deputy Prime Minister.

Dmitry Rogozin, Director General, Roscosmos Space State Corporation. Credit: Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian president’s press service/TASS (Nov 19, 2018)

Rogozin was the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Russia’s aerospace and defense sectors from 2011-2018.  His role in Russia’s annexation of Crimea resulted in sanctions by the United States and the European Union (EU).  He is not allowed to travel here or to EU countries, which, for example, meant he could not attend the International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany in October 2018 where many of the world’s space agency leaders met.

As Deputy Prime Minister, he oversaw the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.  After being sanctioned, he tweeted that the United States could send its astronauts to the International Space Station via trampoline, a reference to U.S. dependence on Russia to ferry crews back and forth after termination of the space shuttle program in 2011. It was just one of a series of disparaging remarks he has made or tweeted about U.S.-Russian space cooperation over the years.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin was reelected in May 2018, Rogozin was the only member of the Kremlin inner circle removed from his post. He was assigned to take over Roscosmos, essentially a demotion.

At first, he appeared to take a more moderate stance, but raised hackles again last summer after a hole was discovered in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft docked at the ISS.  Instead of adopting the widely accepted explanation that a technician mistakenly drilled the hole during manufacturing, he implied that astronauts aboard ISS had done it maliciously.  Although he checked his rhetoric after a telecon with Bridenstine in September, he insisted Russian cosmonauts take a risky spacewalk in December to investigate the hole from the outside of the spacecraft as part of a Russian state commission’s ongoing investigation of the incident.  The results of that investigation have not been released.

Bridenstine visited Russia in October in conjunction with the beginning of the Soyuz MS-10 mission, which suffered a launch failure.  He and Rogozin met for the first time in person during those events. Bridenstine invited Rogozin to visit the United States and speak at Bridenstine’s alma mater, Rice University, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the astronaut corps, to discuss future U.S.-Russian space cooperation.  Bridenstine had permission to offer the invitation from the U.S. Treasury Department, which administers the sanctions.

The invitation sparked little notice outside of space circles until Politico published a story about it on January 1.  It quoted Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee that authorizes NASA activities, as having reservations.  Politico called Rogozin “an ultranationalist politician with a record of stark racism and homophobia”  and quoted Warner as saying the invitation “absolutely sends the wrong message.” A Cruz spokesman said Rogozin’s position at Roscosmos is illustrative of why U.S. dependence on Russia to take crews to and from ISS must end.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire)

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee that funds NASA, issued a press release yesterday saying the invitation “undercuts our message and undermines the United States’ core national security objective.”  Shaheen is also a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Bridenstine “should withdraw this invitation immediately before Congress is forced to act.”  Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) also sent a letter to Bridenstine urging that the invitation be rescinded. He is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In a statement today, Bridenstine spokeswoman Megan Powers said the meeting has been “postponed.”

“NASA has informed the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, that the proposed visit of Roscosmos Director General, Dr. Dimitry Rogozin, currently planned for February 2019 will need to be postponed. A new date for the visit has not been identified.” — Megan Powers

Note:  After this article was published, Bridenstine told the Washington Post that he has rescinded the invitation.

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