Putin to Perminov: You’re Fired!

Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov

As expected, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has fired Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov, ending his seven-year reign as head of the Russian space program. The dismissal, officially because Perminov was about the exceed the 65 year age limit for government officials, came after an embarrassing series of failures and harsh criticism that Roscosmos was falling behind on key projects. His departure was announced earlier this month.

Putin appointed former First Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin to replace Perminov. Popovkin, 53, previously served as commander of Russia’s Space Forces. He retired from the Army with the rank of general in March 2009.

Perminov’s downfall began in December when a Proton rocket failed, sending three valuable navigational satellites crashing into the Pacific. The failure, caused by a fueling error, infuriated Russia’s political leadership because the satellites would have completed the nation’s high-profile GLONASS navigational constellation. An angry Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired the deputy heads of Roscosmos and Energia and reprimanded Perminov for the accident.

Matters grew worse in February when a launch stranded a military satellite in a useless orbit. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov ripped into Roscosmos, accusing the agency of making silly mistakes and falling behind in the production of spacecraft.

The final straw seems to have been a brief delay in the much-hyped launch of a Soyuz flight intended to mark the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic spaceflight. Following the delay, which caused top Russian leaders to alter their travel plans, Ivanov said that Perminov would have to retire due the government’s age limit.