After rumors and even memes involving the subject, Russia announced that it will not abandon American astronaut Mark Vande Hei in space. He currently works on the ISS (International Space Station) and will soon return to Earth in a Russian spacecraft. There are currently four crew members from the United States, one from Germany, and two from Russia.
Vande Hei was deployed to the station in April 2021, long before the ongoing conflict in Ukraine raised tensions between the United States (and its Western allies) and Russia, now largely isolated on the international stage. However, according to Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, it will fulfill the agreement to bring the expected crew back.
The arrival will take place at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 30. “Roscosmos has never let anyone doubt its reliability as a partner,” it said in a statement, reported by TASS, the country’s largest news agency led by Vladimir Putin.
Why did they believe the astronaut would stay there?
As the US and Russia are breaking off relations in several areas, a rumor has emerged that the astronaut could be involved in a kind of Russian “retaliation”. After all, Vande Hei would return here in the Russian spacecraft Sayouz MS-19, along with Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, both from Russia.
These rumors gained even more traction when, earlier this month, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti published a video satirizing the matter.
The content, described as “comical” on the agency’s social media, showed the cosmonauts saying goodbye to Vande Hei. Then the Russian segment of the International Space Station was undocked from the structure and people in the Russian control center appeared cheering the gesture.
At the end of the video, the inscription appeared: “based on unreal facts”.
Roscosmos’ partnership with NASA, the US space agency, goes back a long way—more than two decades. However, since the beginning of this partnership, nothing has shaken it as much as the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine almost a month ago.
The ISS has a Russian and an American segment, but the crew members live together freely and one side depends on the other: the energy to run and life support is provided by the US. The Russian side provided the engines to keep the station in orbit and perform necessary maneuvers.
In recent days, Russian director Dmitry Rogozin has even asked her for help so that some of the sanctions against the country are reviewed, as the punishments directly impact their cooperation on the International Space Station.
And not everyone in the US took the video released by RIA Novosti as a joke. For example, astronaut Scott Kelly expressed his dissatisfaction on Twitter in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
“It kind of pissed me off that the country that we’ve been partnering with internationally for 20 years has gone to the trouble of making a video to threaten to leave behind one of the crew members they are responsible for,” he said.
In fact, one of those who shared the video on social media was Rogozin himself, which made Americans even more outraged at the joke. The head of Roscosmos, of course, is considered close to Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia.