WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Friday dismissed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's suggestion that his country wants to set up a space program with Russian help.

The State Department said that Venezuela and Russia are free to cooperate in any area they want but pointed out that the populist Chavez's government is dealing with potentially more pressing matters for its citizens than "space travel."

"We would note that the government of Venezuela was largely closed this week due to energy shortages," spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters. "To the extent that Venezuela is going to expend resources on behalf of its people, perhaps the focus should be more terrestrial than extraterrestrial."

Crowley made the quip in response to a question about a visit to Venezuela this week by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Ahead of Putin's arrival, Chavez announced that officials from the two countries would discuss the possibility of setting up a "satellite launcher and a factory."

Chavez is a frequent critic of U.S. policies, which he says are aimed at dominating the Americas, and frequently uses harsh rhetoric to castigate Washington.