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Russia Promises To Give US Astronaut Ride Back To Earth Despite Ukraine Tensions

Russia Promises To Give US Astronaut Ride Back To Earth Despite Ukraine Tensions

Mark Vande Hei won't be abandoned in Space, NASA confirmed.

Russia has promised to give a US astronaut a ride back to Earth, after fears emerged that he may be abandoned in space because of tensions over Ukraine.

Mark Vande Hei, a married 55-year-old father of two, has spent nearly a year in space, and is due to leave with two Russians aboard a Soyuz capsule for touchdown in Kazakhstan on 30 March.

Amid tensions between the US and Russia over the invasion of Ukraine, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia's Space Agency and a close ally of Putin, then issued an alarming threat: he said he may abandon Vande Hei.

Mark Vande Hei.

However, Joel Montalbano, NASA’s International Space Station (ISS) programme manager, has since eased concerns in a spacewalk press briefing on Monday (March 14), saying, "Nothing has changed in the last three weeks. I can tell you for sure, Mark is coming home on that Soyuz. We are in communication with our Russian colleagues. There's no fuzz on that."

The tensions arose amid US President Joe Biden cutting more than half of Russia's high-tech imports following the country's invasion of Ukraine last month, announcing that the sanctions would 'degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program'.

Although NASA later confirmed 'no changes are planned' in regards to the cooperation of the US and Russia in space, where for years the two countries have collaborated to construct and maintain the ISS, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia's Space Agency, responded to Biden's sanctions with fury.

The International Space Station.

Taking to Twitter, Rogozin threatened to abandon Vande Hei in space and detach Russia's segment of the ISS altogether, claiming the ISS would crash into America without Russia's help to move it away from space junk.

He posted a video showing two Russian cosmonauts floating inside the space station and waving goodbye to Vande Hei, who is set to return from his space flight on a Russian spacecraft in a matter of weeks.

Former astronaut Scott Kelly slammed Rogozin's threats online, telling ABC News he was 'just enraged that he, the [cosmonauts], said that they were going to leave an American crew member behind'.

"I never thought I would ever hear anything so outrageous," he said.

In spite of the ongoing war, Kelly expressed hopes the partnership between the US and Russia in space would be mended, saying he's known people at the Russian Space Agency for years and that he has 'literally trusted them with [his] life before'.

The former astronaut said the US should 'prepare for the worst', but 'hope for the best'.

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Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Ukraine, Russia, World News, Space