NASA has thanked its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, for safely returning American astronaut Mark Vande Hei to Earth from the International Space Station on schedule.
Vande Hei returned to earth with his fellow ISS passengers, Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov of Russia, on Wednesday, arriving in a Soyuz capsule right on schedule. The trio were flown back to the Russian launch facilities at Baikonur, Kazakhstan, and Vande Hei will return home to Houston from there.
Vande Hei has officially become the longest-traveling American astronaut in space since launching to the ISS with Dubrov in April 2021. Both have orbited Earth 5,680 times, traveling over 150 million miles.
Thanking “our Roscosmos partners,” NASA Associate Administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Kathy Lueders spoke of the two countries’ space teams as a single unit, declaring in a virtual press conference on Thursday that, “We safely brought Mark Vande Hei home.”
Even as Washington has struggled to prohibit Russian access to aerospace and technology goods with round after round of punishing sanctions, NASA does not appear to have changed its plans regarding sending American crew members to the ISS, and apparently still hopes to keep the space station “international.”
Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin has trolled his American counterparts more than once over the fate of the ISS at the hands of US sanctions, suggesting western astronauts stuck in outer orbit can simply fly home “on their broomsticks” since they can’t use sanctioned Russian rocket engines or warning that without access to repair parts the ISS could malfunction and land on China or India. More recently, a video appearing to show Vande Hei being left behind on the ISS was posted to Telegram, outraging the Western media. However, it turned out to be a hoax.
The agency does appear to be serious about shutting down projects it had previously conducted alongside European and American astronauts, however. Roscosmos will no longer maintain the RD-181 rocket engines currently owned by the US, nor will it ship any more such engines to NASA, and it’s still unclear whether there will be future joint missions conducted on board the ISS with the US or Europe.
Remaining on board the ISS are NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron, along with European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, and Sergey Korsakov.