Head of Russian space program calls for more international cooperation in NASA’s Moon plans

The head of Russia’s space program said today that NASA’s plans to send people back to the Moon are “too US-centric” for Russia to participate. He has been critical of the program in the past and now says that Russia would only be open to participating if the Moon plans were more focused on international cooperation.

“The most important thing here would be to base this program on the principles of international cooperation that we’ve all used” to fly the ISS, Dmitry Rogozin, the director-general of Roscosmos, said through a translator during a virtual press conference at the International Astronautical Congress. He added: “If we could get back to considering making these principles as the foundation of the program, then Roscosmos could also consider its participation.”

Rogozin has made it clear that he is not a fan of NASA’s Moon program, an initiative called Artemis that aims to send the first woman to the lunar surface. Part of the program’s design calls for building a space station around the Moon, known as the Lunar Gateway, which would serve as an orbiting outpost for astronauts to visit before heading down to the surface of the Moon.

NASA has already partnered with some international agencies for Artemis — notably, Canada and Europe — but the US space agency is spearheading almost all of the major elements of the program, including the rockets, capsules, landers, and modules needed for the Gateway. And Rogozin has been vocal about his dislike of the US-led approach.

“For the United States, this is now more of a political project,” Rogozin told the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda in July. “With the lunar project, we are observing the departure of our American partners from the principles of cooperation and mutual support that developed during cooperation on the ISS. They see their program not as international, but similar to NATO. There is America, everyone else must help and pay. To be honest, we are not interested in participating in such a project.”

Rogozin has also expressed disdain for NASA’s Artemis Accords, a set of guidelines that the space agency and the US State Department developed for countries to adhere to when exploring the Moon. The accords call for a standard set of rules on how to mine the Moon and places that need to be protected on the lunar surface, such as the Apollo landing sites. Rogozin likened the accords to “an invasion” in a now-deleted tweet.

Today, Rogozin doubled down on his comments about Artemis. “In our view, Lunar Gateway in its current form is too US-centric,” he said during the press conference, noting that Russia “is likely to refrain from participating in it on a large scale.” However, Rogozin did say that he hopes the Gateway has a docking port that will allow future Russian spacecraft to attach to the station if necessary. “If Russia builds its own space transportation system, we need to have an opportunity to dock” with the Gateway, Rogozin said.

Following the talk, NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine told The Verge that Artemis will use the same legal framework developed for the International Space Station in order to operate the Gateway. “The ISS has not only advanced technology, but helped us to learn how to effectively work together with a variety of cultures and countries,” Bridenstine said in a statement over email. “This is why we’re using the Intergovernmental Agreement (the IGA) which is the ISS’s legal framework for Gateway.”

Bridenstine said that NASA’s international partners have been agreeing to operate the Gateway under a similar framework through a series of non-binding contracts called memorandums of understanding, or MOUs. He said that he sent a draft MOU to Roscosmos in November last year about Gateway operations, but has not received a solid response. “We remain open and interested in receiving their feedback on the document and our general approach of utilizing the ISS’s IGA for the Gateway,” Bridenstine said in the statement.

As for Rogozin’s docking comments, Bridenstine said he is in agreement about setting up shared standards — which is ultimately the aim of the Artemis Accords that Rogozin lambasted. “Via the Accords, the US is pro-actively asking any partner nations that join us on the Artemis journey to focus on shared standards that will not just include docking, but data formatting and transfer, communications, navigation, environmental control and life support, and numerous other important systems and operations,” Bridenstine said.

Bridenstine told Reuters in July that he holds hope that NASA and Roscosmos will continue to work together. “I’ve got a good relationship with Dmitri Rogozin, so I’m hopeful that there are opportunities for us to continue to collaborate,” he said at the time.

Update October 12th, 1:19PM ET: This article was updated to include a statement from NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

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