NASA uninvites Russian Roscosmos head Rogozin

NASA rescinded an invitation to Dmitry Rogozin after US senators spoke out against his visit. Rogozin normally wouldn't have been allowed to enter the US in the first place due to sanctions against him.

Getting uninvited from a previously arranged visit could be perceived as an impolite slight.

But when the guest is the director general of Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, it can become an international relations incident.

Rogozin was originally supposed to visit NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in February 2019, with the option of speaking at nearby Rice University as well. But the visit was a complicated affair from the get-go.

Rogozin first had to receive a special waiver, which the US Treasury Department granted in June 2018. He was on a US government sanctions list because of his involvement in Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. During that time, he was a deputy prime minister within the Russian government.

After several US senators voiced their criticism regarding Rogozin's upcoming visit, NASA rescinded its invitation.

"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suggesting that this was not a good idea, and I wanted to be accommodating to the interest of the senators, so I have rescinded the invitation for Dmitry Rogozin to visit the US," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told The Washington Post. "However we will continue our strong working relationship with Russia as it relates to the International Space Station and sending our astronauts into space."

Invitiation 'undercut US national security objectives'

While political relations between the US and Russia are fraught, the two countries have cooperated in the fields of space science and research for decades.

Just last October, Bridenstine went to Russia and Kazakhstan, where Rogozin showed him around the Baikonur spaceport.

Bridenstine (left) visited the Baikonur spaceport with Rogozin (right) in the fall of 2018

It's a longstanding tradition that the heads of the two space organizations visit each other — and it only became a problem after Rogozin was announced as the head of Roscosmos in May 2018.

Previous to this job, Rogozin, a Russian nationalist, had held the position of deputy prime minister in charge of Russia's defense industry. That lasted from 2011 to 2018. He was put on a no-entry list and had his accounts frozen by the US government after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

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"America's message to the Kremlin should be unequivocal: Actions have consequences," said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen in a quote in the daily USA Today. "Administrator Bridenstine's invitation to Dmitry Rogozin, one of the leading architects of the Kremlin's campaign of aggression towards its neighbors, undercuts our message and undermines the United States' core national security objectives." 

Bridenstine emphasized that he discussed neither his original invitation, nor the reversal of it, with the White House.

What happens now?

Since the US scrapped its space shuttle program in 2011, US astronauts have been traveling to and from the International Space Station (ISS) onboard Russian Soyuz spacecrafts. In 2014, when the US instituted the Crimea-related sanctions against Russia, Rogozin suggested on Twitter that NASA could use trampolines to get to the space station instead of Russian rockets.

So how will the "uninvitation" affect the US-Russia space partnership? The crew currently on the ISS consists of Russian commander Oleg Konenenko, Canadian David Saint-Jacques and American Anne McClain, who emphasized in a tweet on December 23 that "we really are all on this amazing, beautiful planet together."

Is there any chance that her trip back to Earth could get more difficult because of the turmoil?

"No, we don't have to worry about that," said Martin Buscher of the Institute for Space and Aviation at Berlin's Technical University (TU) in an interview with DW. "There were tensions between the former Soviet Union and the US again and again, which is why international cooperation hasn't always been easy. But both parties always tried to uphold the cooperation, even during the Cold War."

Buscher firmly believes that the relationship has survived much worse. He says it's hard to say how Rogozin will react to the decision, but that he doubts it'll have serious long-term consequences for astronauts or cosmonauts.

"There will likely be some harsh words," he said. "But I don't think actions will follow." 

Happy birthday, ISS! The International Space Station at 20

A 19,000 kilo building block

The first module of the International Space Station was sent into orbit 20 years ago. It was the Russian-made Zarya, a "Functional Cargo Block" — also known as FGB. Zarya came in at 19,000 kilograms (41,000 pounds) and was 12 meters (39 feet) long. It was commissioned and paid for by America and built by a Russian space company. It was the start of two decades of international cooperation.

Happy birthday, ISS! The International Space Station at 20

Larger than a six-bedroom house

The International Space Station is home to an international crew of six people, who also work there. It travels at a speed of five miles per second (8kps), orbiting Earth every 90 minutes. Eight solar arrays provide power to the station and make it the second brightest object in the night sky after the moon. You don't need a telescope to see it.

Happy birthday, ISS! The International Space Station at 20

Expedition 1

This was the ISS's first long-term crew: American astronaut William Shepherd (center) and his two Russian fellow workers, cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko (left) and Sergei Krikalev (right). They moved into the ISS on November 2, 2000, and stayed for 136 days.

Happy birthday, ISS! The International Space Station at 20

Up to one year

On average, space station crews, also known as expeditions, stay in space for about five and a half months. Some crew members, however, have broken that record — for example, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (photo) and Roscosmos cosmonaut, Mikhail Kornienko. They lived and worked in space for a whole year.

Happy birthday, ISS! The International Space Station at 20

Multinational

This is Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield strumming his guitar on the ISS at Christmas 2012. Since 2000, crew members and Space Flight Participants (self-financed space tourists) have come from 18 different countries. The most have come from the USA and Russia. Other teams have included people from Japan, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Germany, Brazil and South Africa.

Happy birthday, ISS! The International Space Station at 20

Shuttle bus

Crew members and supplies arrive at the ISS via transfer vehicles and space freighters. This photo shows space shuttle Atlantis, which operated until 2011, docking onto the space station. These days, astronauts arrive at the ISS in a Soyuz capsule.

Happy birthday, ISS! The International Space Station at 20

Out for a walk

There have been more than 210 spacewalks — "EVA" in astronaut terms — at the ISS since 2000. This photo shows astronaut Mike Hopkins on a spacewalk on December 24, 2013.

Happy birthday, ISS! The International Space Station at 20

Extraordinary exterior

The ISS has several robotic arms. This one, Canadarm2, is 57.7 feet (17.58 meters) long when fully extended, and has seven motorized joints. It can lift 220,000 pounds (100 tons), which is the weight of a space shuttle orbiter. This photo shows astronaut Stephen K. Robinson anchored to Canadarm2's foot restraint.

Happy birthday, ISS! The International Space Station at 20

Blue Dot mission

Crew members spend about 35 hours per week conducting research. On his first mission, dubbed "Blue Dot," German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst observed and analyzed changes to the human body that occur in microgravity. Gerst's second mission at the ISS started in June 2018. In October 2018, he became the first German astronaut to command the ISS.

Happy birthday, ISS! The International Space Station at 20

Back home

When their time at the ISS is over, astronauts are taken away in a Soyuz capsules. They fall to Earth with a parachute to ease their landing. Welcome home!