Home News Russia Denies It Will Strand American Astronaut, Despite Reports from US and NASA

Russia Denies It Will Strand American Astronaut, Despite Reports from US and NASA

Russia Denies It Will Strand American Astronaut, Despite Reports from US and NASA
Source: Space

Last week, a flurry of news stories stated that Russia was threatening to leave an American astronaut stranded on the International Space Station in retaliation for sanctions imposed on the country as it continues to attack Ukraine. However, Russia’s official space organization Roscosmos is attempting to assuage such anxieties, stating that the astronaut would be returned to Russia as scheduled.

Mark Vande Hei, a NASA astronaut, has been stationed aboard the International Space Station since April 2021. Vande Hei and two cosmonauts were sent to the ISS by a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan. His stay on the ISS was extended to a full year, and he is scheduled to come home on March 30th in another Soyuz capsule. When he gets home, he’ll hold the record for the longest continuous spaceflight by an American astronaut, with a duration of about 353 days.

Last week, rumors circulated that Russia could refuse to bring Vande Hei home on the Soyuz. The root of the mistake was a video posted on March 5th by RIA Novosti, a Russian state news program, showing Vande Hei on the International Space Station with his fellow Russian cosmonauts. The tape was edited to make it appear as though the Russians were about to abandon him and eventually separate the Russian section of the ISS entirely.

However, the magnitude of this “danger” was never certain. The video was uploaded to Dmitry Rogozin’s Telegram channel, along with a message from RIA Novosti implying that it was a prank. The caption reads, “The Roscosmos television studio playfully portrayed the idea of Russia departing from the ISS project — the undocking of the Russian component of the station, without which the American half of the project cannot function.”

However, the footage was widely reported in the United States. Several news sites, including Good Morning America and Fox News, reported that Russia was threatening to abandon Vande Hei. In a recent piece from TASS, another of Russia’s state-run media channels, the government refutes those assertions.

“On March 30, US astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov, and Pyotr Dubrov will return home aboard the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft,” Roscosmos stated in a statement, according to TASS. All previous Soyuz landings have been in Kazakhstan, therefore Vande Hei and the rest of his crew are expected to land there as well. Meanwhile, NASA has stated that the US space agency and Roscosmos are continuing to collaborate on the International Space Station and that activities are proceeding normally.

Roscosmos attempted to dismiss the controversy in a TASS piece debunking Vande Hei’s assertions. The corporation’s press department stated, “Roscosmos has never let anybody question its reliability as a partner.”

To be honest, determining when to take “funny” space stories from Russian media and Dmitry Rogozin seriously is becoming a difficulty for Roscosmos’ partners. Rogozin has been on a Twitter rant over the last two weeks, posting a slew of furious remarks and memes in reaction to US and European sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

They’ve varied from ominous warnings — as as when he suggested the ISS falling down on the US without Russia’s aid — to amusing movies, such as this one of a Tom and Jerry cartoon with characters labeled “Ukraine,” “Russia,” and “NATO.”

Rogozin is the chief of Russia’s space program, and what he says on social media may occasionally become policy.

On March 2nd, for example, Rogozin tweeted a video of himself issuing a series of conditional requests to Roscosmos client OneWeb. On March 5th, Roscosmos was scheduled to launch a new batch of satellites for OneWeb from Kazakhstan on a Russian Soyuz rocket, but Rogozin said Russia would not proceed with the launch unless the company guaranteed the satellites would not be used for military purposes and the UK government divested its entire stake in OneWeb. Roscosmos turned back the Soyuz from the launchpad after the corporation refused to comply with the conditions.

The launch never happened.