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Russia replaces space agency head as NASA plans new joint missions

July 15, 2022 Updated Fri., July 15, 2022 at 7:42 p.m.

This March 25, 2009, photo provided by NASA shows the International Space Station seen from the Space Shuttle Discovery during separation.  (HOGP)
This March 25, 2009, photo provided by NASA shows the International Space Station seen from the Space Shuttle Discovery during separation. (HOGP)
By Christian Davenport Washington Post

The Kremlin on Friday replaced Dmitry Rogozin, the bombastic head of the Russian Space Agency, who’d threatened to end the partnership with the United States on the International Space Station over the U.S. response to the war in Ukraine.

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

In a statement, NASA said that the International Space Station “was designed to be interdependent and relies on contributions from each space agency to function. No one agency has the capability to function independent of the others.”

Tensions between the two countries over Ukraine have spread from the ground to space after years when cooperation in space has been walled off from geopolitical tensions. Earlier this month, Bill Nelson, the NASA administrator, condemned Russia after its space agency posted photos of its three cosmonauts on the International Space Station posing with the flags of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic – self-proclaimed republics in breakaway regions of Ukraine that are only recognized as independent states by Russia and Syria. The cosmonauts said the capture of the region was “a liberation day to celebrate both on Earth and in space.”

In a statement, the U.S. space agency said it “strongly rebukes using the International Space Station for political purposes to support (the) war against Ukraine, which is fundamentally inconsistent with the station’s primary function among the 15 international participating countries to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes.”

Earlier this year, as tensions mounted over Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, Rogozin said that since Russia is responsible for providing the thrust required 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 Russia would “closely monitor the actions of our American partners and, if they continue to be hostile, we will return to the question 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.

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

In its statement Friday, NASA said it had assigned 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.

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

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

NASA said integrating Russian and American crews, which has been the practice for years, “protects against contingencies such as a problem with any crew spacecraft, serious crew medical issues, or an emergency aboard the station that requires a crew and the vehicle they are assigned to return to Earth sooner than planned.”

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