Rogozin at the head of the Russian space program; NASA plans joint flights

On Friday, the Kremlin replaced Dmitry Rogozin, the pompous head of the Russian Space Agency, who had threatened to end the partnership with the United States on the International Space Station because of the American response to the war in Ukraine.

The move came as NASA announced it had finalized a deal with Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, for a crew swap that would see a Russian cosmonaut fly on an American rocket and a pair of Americans on a Russian spacecraft – a sign that the countries would continue to work together in space.

In a statement, NASA said the International Space Station “was designed to be interdependent and relies on the contributions of each space agency to operate. No agency has the ability to operate independently of the others.

Tensions between the two countries over Ukraine have spilled over from ground to space after years of cooperation in space being isolated from geopolitical tensions. Earlier this month, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson condemned Russia after his space agency released photos of its three cosmonauts on the International Space Station posing with the flags of the Luhansk People’s Republic and of the Donetsk People’s Republic – self-proclaimed republics in breakaway regions. of Ukraine which are recognized as independent states only by Russia and Syria. The cosmonauts said capturing the region was “a day of liberation to be celebrated both on Earth and in space.”

In a statement, the US space agency said it “strongly condemns the use of the International Space Station for political purposes to support [the] war against Ukraine, which is fundamentally incompatible with the main function of the station among the 15 international participating countries to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes.

Earlier this year, as tensions rose over Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, Rogozin said that since Russia is responsible for providing the thrust needed to keep the space station in the correct orbit, it could force the station to crash. He also threatened to consider dissolving the partnership, saying that Russia would “closely monitor the actions of our American partners and, if they continue to be hostile, we will revert to the issue of the existence of the International Space Station.” “.

He is to be replaced as head of Roscosmos by Yuri Borisov, a deputy prime minister, the Kremlin said in a statement.

NASA officials largely dismissed his threats as bluster, saying they were focused on maintaining the partnership and that Russia’s official actions contradicted Rogozin’s rhetoric.

In its statement Friday, NASA said it had tasked astronaut Frank Rubio to fly alongside two Russian cosmonauts on a Soyuz spacecraft to the space station scheduled for Sept. 21. Another NASA astronaut, Loral O’Hara, would fly on the Soyuz next spring.

Meanwhile, Russia has tasked cosmonaut Anna Kikina to fly alongside two NASA astronauts, Nicole Mann and Josh Cassidy, on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. This flight to the space station is also scheduled for September. Cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev would fly a subsequent mission from the United States next spring.

NASA said the crew swaps would help “ensure the continued safe operations of the International Space Station, protect the lives of astronauts, and ensure the continued presence of the United States in space.”

NASA said the integration of Russian and American crews, which has been the practice for years, “protects against eventualities such as a problem with a crew spacecraft, serious crew medical problems or an emergency aboard the station that requires a crew and their assigned vehicle. return to Earth sooner than expected.

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