Russia says it won't leave a NASA astronaut stranded aboard the ISS

Following an alarming state-backed video shared last week.
Chris Young
Vande Hei during a spacewalk (left) and aboard the ISS (right).1, 2

The rhetoric surrounding the space partnership between NASA and Roscosmos has settled down since last week.

Russia's state-backed news agency TASS wrote on Monday, March 14, that NASA astronaut Colonel Mark Vande Hei would be safely returned to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS), on March 30 aboard a Russian-built Soyuz rocket.

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NASA astronaut Vande Hei will return to Earth aboard a Russian rocket

The news comes after a week in which Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin angrily tweeted that the ISS could come crashing down over Europe following sanctions against Russia.

Around the same time, Russian state media company RIA Novosti posted a video enacting the detachment of Russia's segment of the ISS. Due to the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, many took this as a threat to do exactly what was shown in the video, leaving Vande Hei stranded in space.

Now, Russian news agency TASS explains that Roscosmos plans to make good on its agreement to return Vande Hei to Earth alongside the remaining crew of cosmonauts aboard the ISS. They will land at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 30.

The Russian state-backed news agency quotes a Roscosmos statement that says "U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei will travel back home in the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft together with Russia's Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov on March 30." The statement also pointedly remarks that "Roscosmos has never let anybody doubt its reliability as a partner," likely implying that NASA has done just that. 

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In fact, Rogozin tweeted in Russian on Saturday that "Roscosmos sends written appeals to NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, and the European Space Agency with a demand to lift illegal sanctions from our enterprises".

Following the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, global powers including the U.S. levied strong sanctions against the country's space program and financial institutions. According to a report by SpaceNews, even China is shutting Russia out following its invasion of Ukraine, despite its partnership in other space ventures including a lunar station project to rival NASA's lunar Gateway.

Vande Hei today, March 15, broke the record for the longest ever spaceflight for a U.S. astronaut at 340 days. With rising tensions, as well as plans to deorbit the ISS due to its aging hardware, we wonder whether another astronaut will get the chance to break that record aboard the iconic space station.

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