US Astronaut to Ride Home on Russian Spacecraft Amid High Tensions

by Taylor Cunningham

After spending close to a year in space, one NASA astronaut will soon be flying home aboard a Russian capsule. But with tensions worsening amid the Ukraine war, the endeavor is gandering some unwanted political attention. However, the US astronaut hopes space relations with Russia remain strong.

At a Glance

  • NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei will finally make a trip back home after breaking the record for single spaceflight this month.
  • Vande Hei will ride a Russian capsule back to Earth.
  • Because of political tensions between US and Russia, some wonder if it’s wise for a NASA astronaut to rely on a Roscosmos capsule.
  • However, everyone involved hopes that the counrties can “hold it together” for the sake of the International Space Station.

Vande Hei Will Head to Kazakhstan Aboard a Russian Soyuz Capsule Later this Month

On Tuesday, flight engineer Mark Vande Hei will have spent 340 days in outer space—which breaks the U.S. record for single spaceflight. And shortly after, he will join two Russian astronauts in a Soyuz capsule as they make the trip back to Earth. The capsule is set to land in Kazakhstan on March 30th. However, many have wondered if Vande Hei will reschedule his trip home.

In the recent past, Russia and the U.S. have worked closely together as both countries have made efforts to increase space travel and exploration. But because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, things have changed.

Since the attacks began last month, relations between NASA and Russia’s counterpart Roscosmos have been strained. And as a result, canceled launches and broken contracts have followed.

US Astronaut Scott Kelly Thinks Russia and U.S. ‘Can Hold it Together’

The situation prompted retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly to hand his Russian medal for space exploration back to D.C.’s Russian Embassy.

But even Kelly thinks that Vande Hei and the Roscosmos astronauts “can hold it together” for a trip back home. In fact, Kelly believes they need to.

“We need an example set that two countries that historically have not been on the most friendly of terms, can still work somewhere peacefully. And that somewhere is the International Space Station,” he told the AP. “That’s why we need to fight to keep it.”

NASA and Roscosmos are partners in the International Space Station (ISS) along with the Japanese, European, and Canadian space agencies. And all but Russia have committed to keeping the station running until 2030. As of now, the Russians are expected to leave in 2024.

But the U.S. and Russia are the main operators of ISS. And members of both space agencies have been living inside of it for 21 years. Until SpaceX joined the efforts in 2020, it was common for Americans to ride home with their Russian roommates.

Vande Hei moved into the ISS last April. And he rode in with Russian astronaut Pyotr Dubrov, who will also take the Soyuz back to Kazakhstan at the end of the month.

And as the tensions back home have been building, the two have been avoiding the topic of war to keep peace in the orbiting outpost.

“We haven’t talked about that too much,” Vande Hei said in a February TV interview. “I’m not sure we really want to go there.”

And NASA agrees that politics should stay out of space stations operations because it would be “very difficult” to run ISS alone.

“It would be a sad day for international operations if we can’t continue to peacefully operate in space,” said NASA’s human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders.