- US astronaut Mark Vande Hei departed the ISS on Wednesday to return to Earth.
- He departed on a Russian Soyuz capsule amid tensions between Russia’s space program and the US.
- Russia’s space chief Rogozin has slammed the US on social media for its sanctions.
US astronaut Mark Vande Hei left on Wednesday to return to Earth in a Russian space capsule. Vande Hei spent 355 days on the International Space Station (ISS) – the longest voyage ever in low Earth orbit.
Vande Hei boarded Russia’s Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft on Wednesday with Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.
The trip is an example of the increasing rare cooperation between the US and Russia after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and retaliatory Western sanctions severed many of the links between the two.
The spacecraft undocked from the ISS at 3:21 p.m. ET and was on its way back to Earth at the time of publication.
—International Space Station (@Space_Station) March 30, 2022
Vande Hei, Shkaplerov and Dubrov are scheduled to land in Kazakhstan at 7:28 am ET. NASA set up a live stream of Vande Hei’s return.
Vande Hei’s record-breaking success was marred by rising tensions between Russia and the US.
In recent weeks, the head of Russia’s space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, has criticized US sanctions in aggressive social media posts, including a public spat on Twitter with former US astronaut Mark Kelly.
A heavily edited video broadcast by the state-run RIA Novosti and divided by NASA Watch on March 5 suggested the possibility that Russia could refuse to return Vande Hei to Earth, leaving him stuck in orbit.
It showed Russian cosmonauts seemingly waving goodbye to Vande Hei before boarding a shuttle departing from the ISS.
However, Rogozin said on March 11 that Vande Hei would return to Earth as planned, dismissing what he called “hysterical” news reports that suggested otherwise, according to Space.com. NASA also confirmed that the return would be normal.
Vande Hei’s journey broke the longest space flight record – previously set by Kelly in 2016 – by 15 days. During his trip, he studied muscle loss in space, kidney health, and fire safety, among other things, as shown in a tweet below.
—ISS Research (@ISS_Research) March 25, 2022
Roskosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov handed over command of the ISS to NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn in a collegial ceremony on Tuesday, during which he said the crew “worked very hard together.”
“We worked very hard as a team and we didn’t have any problems,” he said.