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Russia ousts boisterous space chief Dmitry Rogozin

The news comes as NASA and Roscosmos finalize a crew swap

Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome Photo by Pavel Pavlov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Dmitry Rogozin, the blustering head of Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos, is out of the position following a big shake-up in the Russian government. He is being replaced by Yury Borisov, Russian deputy prime minister of space and defense, bringing an end to Rogozin’s dynamic reign as general director of the country’s space program.

Rogozin has been in charge of Roscosmos since his appointment as director general in 2018, though prior to that, he was deputy prime minister since 2011, overseeing space and defense. He’s been a controversial figure for most of that tenure, resulting in strained relations with NASA — Russia’s largest partner in space. Rogozin was sanctioned by the United States in 2014 and barred from entering the country due to his time as a deputy prime minister during Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

As the head of Roscosmos, Rogozin became known for making wildly outlandish statements and threats, many of which put NASA in rather uncomfortable positions. His bombast got renewed focus when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine this year, prompting Rogozin to go into overdrive and make ludicrous claims that many interpreted as threats against NASA and the US / Russian space partnership. For instance, at the start of the war, Rogozin seemed to hint that Roscosmos might pull out of the International Space Station partnership and cause the ISS to come crashing down to Earth. And, after declaring that Russia would no longer supply rocket engines to the United States, Rogozin said NASA astronauts could use “broomsticks” to get to orbit.

Rogozin’s mouth made headlines even before Russia’s war in Ukraine, though. When the US placed sanctions on Russian industry during the Crimea invasion in 2014, Rogozin said the move would hurt Russia’s space industry and that American astronauts — who relied on Russia to get to space back then — could use a “trampoline” to get to orbit instead. Additionally, when NASA introduced an international effort to standardize rules for exploring the Moon, Rogozin scoffed at the initiative and likened NASA’s lunar plans to an “invasion” similar to the Iraq War.

The International Space Station, seen from a departing SpaceX Crew Dragon.
Image: NASA

Typically, NASA has strayed away from commenting on the wild statements Rogozin has made, and both the US space agency and Roscosmos have continued to work together despite what the Russian space chief has said publicly. However, NASA did make a rare move recently when the agency publicly denounced the actions of the three Russian cosmonauts currently on board the ISS, who posed with flags in space considered to be anti-Ukraine propaganda. “NASA strongly rebukes Russia using the International Space Station for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine,” NASA said in a statement at the time.

Even with the tension increasing between the US and Russia on Earth, NASA and Roscosmos have maintained seamless operations on the ISS, which is currently home to three cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts, and an Italian astronaut with the European Space Agency. And Russia is still working toward extending its partnership with NASA on the International Space Station, though a formal decision has not yet been made.

Additionally, just today, NASA confirmed that it has finalized an agreement with Roscosmos to perform an upcoming crew swap — where Russian cosmonauts will fly on future SpaceX Crew Dragon missions to the space station in exchange for American astronauts flying on Russian Soyuz capsules to the space station. NASA astronaut Frank Rubio has been assigned to an upcoming Soyuz mission as well as NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara, who’s been assigned to a separate Soyuz crew. Russian cosmonauts Anna Kikina and Andrei Fedyaev have been assigned to separate Crew Dragon missions. The first crew swap flights are set to occur in September.

“Integrated crews have been the norm throughout the International Space Station Program in order to maintain safe operation of the space station,” Josh Finch, a NASA spokesperson, emailed in a statement to The Verge. The statement added, “The no-exchange-of-funds arrangement includes transportation to and from the International Space Station and comprehensive mission support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing and crew rescue services.”

NASA may be breathing a sigh of relief with the Rogozin news, but it’s possible the recently ousted space chief could be getting a very different role soon. Rumors have swirled in Russian media that he might find himself in a new position overseeing territories in Ukraine during the invasion.

Correction July 15th, 11:15AM ET: An original version of this story said there is a German astronaut on the ISS, but it is an Italian astronaut. The story has been corrected.