Russia kept its word and returned an American astronaut to Earth

Mark Vande Hey returned to Earth in a Russian Soyuz capsule. This flight would have been the most common a few weeks ago. In the meantime, a war broke out in Ukraine, and tensions between the West and Russia escalated.

All’s well that ends well for Mark T. Vande Hey. The American astronaut returned to Earth on March 30 after spending a total of 355 days in space – he departed on April 9, 2021. The stakeholder is the American who has spent the longest cumulative period aboard the International Space Station (ISS). ), ahead of Scott Kelly (340 days), the previous US holder.

American, which landed at 13:28 in Kazakhstan, returned with two Russian colleagues, Anton Chkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, who spent 176 and 355 days on the ISS, respectively – the same as the American astronaut for the second time. But there is no talk of delaying: two Russians are returning to Russia, and an American will be in the United States within a day.

Crew changes, whether for transportation or repatriation, are always a delicate operation, more so than many other space operations, because astronauts’ lives hang in the balance. Fortunately, fatal accidents are rare in space exploration. The last disaster of this kind dates back to 2003 with the death of the space shuttle Columbia.

Doubts arose with the war in Ukraine

Fortunately, the return of the three passengers to the ISS was uneventful. However, this flight to Earth attracted more attention than usual, as it took place against the backdrop of escalating tensions between Russia and the West. Given the crossover repression between the two camps due to the war in Ukraine, there is finally some uncertainty.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos has decided to reduce its cooperation in certain segments of the ISS – not to operations to keep it in working order, but by withdrawing from certain scientific programs. Apparently, the astronauts were ordered not to work with their German counterpart.

This could have become an epiphenomenon if even more dubious assumptions were not subsequently revealed on the part of Roskosmos and, in particular, on the part of its director Dmitry Rogozin. A stakeholder mentioned the risk of deorbiting the ISS and even crashing a station in Europe or the US if someone hindered Russia’s ability to carry out its missions in space.

The war in Ukraine raised the question of the future of the ISS, because the station is counting on international cooperation … // Source: NASA Johnson – retouched photo

Indirectly, Dmitry Rogozin emphasized the risk that certain Western sanctions against his country would affect its ability to participate in the ISS, which could inadvertently backfire against Western countries – and therefore ultimately harm the entire world. Clearly, the message he wanted to convey was to save on sanctions.

Even more out of place was a video seen on social media of a somewhat crude montage of the future ISS, shared by Roscosmos and broadcast by Russian media. It mainly showed how the Russian segment separates from the rest of the station and the Russian cosmonauts say goodbye to Mark Vande Hey, who was then alone on board.

Some then wondered if Russia was going to return the American to Earth.

From the very beginning it was planned that Mr. Vande Hey would return with a Soyuz capsule at the end of his time in space, but the outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine and the economic repression undertaken by the West and in particular the United States of the State let the fear of anxiety. This, even if the US space agency was reassuring.

I can say for sure: Mark is returning home on this Soyuz. “, – said the NASA expert in mid-March. It was also clear from the Russian side that everyone would remain professionals. ” American astronaut Mark Vande Hey will return home on the Soyuz spacecraft. […] March 30 Roscosmos added.

The ISS has never been seen as a risk of collateral damage from the war in Ukraine. It would be too risky. In fact, the station is further endangered by unilateral military initiatives, such as this launch of a Russian anti-satellite missile in 2021. Cosmonauts have had to take cover due to the risk of debris and prepare to escape if necessary. ISS.

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Source: Nino Barbie for Numerama.

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