Roscosmos says Mark Vande Hei will return from the International Space Station as planned, after fears were voiced that he could be left behind
Russian space agency, Roscosmos, announced on Monday that it would fulfill its commitments regarding the International Space Station (ISS) and return an American astronaut to Earth aboard one of its units as scheduled, denying the claims he was going to be left behind in the wake of anti-Russian sanctions imposed over the offensive in Ukraine.
“Roscosmos has never given any reason to doubt its reliability as a partner. Safe operations of the staff on the ISS orbit is our top priority. American astronaut Mark Vande Hei will return to Earth on March 30 on board of the Russian ‘Soyuz MS-19’ spacecraft along with Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov,” the space agency press office confirmed.
Mark Vande Hei arrived at the space station early last April, which means he was on track to break the American record for the most prolonged stay in space. Hei is scheduled to return to Earth on March 30.
On March 5, a video with a watermark of Russian news outlet Ria Novosti was shared by NASA Watch account on Twitter, showing the astronaut left behind on the ISS as Russian cosmonauts say goodbye and depart from the station.
Russian gov’t-controlled RIA Novosti @rianru posted a video on Telegram made by @Roscosmos where cosmonauts say goodbye to Mark Vande Hei on #ISS, depart, and then the Russian segment detaches from the rest of ISS. @Rogozin is clearly threatening the ISS program. #NASA #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/fj2coK1xR1
— NASA Watch (@NASAWatch) March 5, 2022
This video sparked anxiety about the astronaut’s fate across Western media outlets, especially considering the many statements from the director of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, concerning the agency’s work in the context of anti-Russian sanctions. For example, he warned that without Russian maintenance the 500-ton ISS could deorbit and crash-land in India or China, or suggested that without Russian rocket engines the Western astronauts should fly home on “their broomsticks” instead.
However, NASA emphasized early in March that the space cooperation between Russia and the US will be maintained, although the US agency was considering “operational flexibility” in dealing with Roscosmos. The American agency is still expecting Vande Hei to come back as scheduled, despite the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and international sanctions against Russia.
Moscow attacked its neighbor in late February, following a seven-year standoff over Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German-and-French-brokered protocols had been designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.