NASA astronaut returns home in Russian space capsule

A NASA astronaut hitched a ride to Earth with two Russian cosmonauts, contrasting the calamities of the ongoing war.

A NASA astronaut hitched a ride back to Earth on Wednesday after a record-breaking 355 days spent at the International Space Station. The astronaut returned with two Russian cosmonauts to find the world swept up in the calamities of war.

Astronaut Mark Vande Hei landed in a Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan with Russian Space Agency’s Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov. The pair have also spent the last year in space.

NASA and Russian cosmonauts
Credit: NASA

In striking contrast to the U.S. and Russia’s growing tensions, Shkaplerov said, “Even if people have problems on Earth, on orbit we are one crew and I think ISS is a symbol of friendship and cooperation and the symbol of future of exploration of space”.

Upon landing, a small team of NASA doctors and staff administered medical inspection, before immediately returning the 55-year-old Vande Hei to Houston.

On February 24th, US President Joe Biden announced high-tech export restrictions against Moscow, intended to “degrade” Russia’s aerospace and space industry.

Dmitry Rogozin, director-general of Russian space agency Roscosmos, took to Twitter to express his discontent and the sanctions, stating that they might “destroy” ISS teamwork, and cause the space station to fall from orbit.

NASA stated that the US and Russian ISS crew members were aware of the events on Earth but continued to work together for the sake of safety.

“For the safety of our astronauts, the working relationship between NASA and our international partners continues,” said Bill Nelson, NASA administrator. And “that includes the professional relationship between the cosmonauts and our astronauts”.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell told Al Jazeera, “It’s a bit awkward the rest of the space industry has been thrown into turmoil by the Ukraine war… and yet at the ISS is as if nothing had happened… [and] they kind of have to, at some level, because they have so, much money invested on this”.

Other space programs have not remained as amicable, with the European State Agency indefinitely suspending its ExoMars rover mission with Roscosmos, Russia’s state corporation.

Here’s hoping that this exemplary cooperative, selfless behaviour can be replicated on Earth, amidst worsening conditions under the Russian invasion of Ukraine.