Russia Promises It Won’t Leave US Astronaut Stranded On ISS

Following a series of weird and ambiguous threats in recent weeks regarding the International Space Station (ISS) and ties with NASA, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has issued a statement stating that it will transport a US astronaut down to Earth on a Soyuz rocket as planned. Mark Vande Hei, a 55-year-old Texas father of two, has been living on the International Space Station since April 2021. The astronaut was supposed to return to Earth on March 30 with two cosmonauts in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, but there were worries that his return may be hampered by US sanctions put on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti released an odd video that purported to show the Russian side of the ISS splitting away, leaving Vande Hei behind. Now it appears that Russia is attempting to assuage the worries generated by the video. “On March 30, US astronaut Mark Vande Hei will return to Earth on the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft with Russian astronauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov. Roscosmos has never allowed anybody doubt its capacity to be a trustworthy partner “TASS, a state-run news agency, quoted Roscosmos as saying.

While some thought the video was only a threat or perhaps a joke, others took it seriously, alleging Russia was threatening to strand the US astronaut in low-Earth orbit. Russia, for its part, mocked the United States for taking the threat so seriously. Dmitry Rogozin, the brash chairman of Roscosmos, posted a Fox News clip on Telegram, attempting to ridicule the outrage over the “joke.” Rogozin, a former Russian ambassador to NATO and former Russian Deputy Prime Minister, is noted for his vaguely menacing sense of humor and for making outrageous remarks to “troll” his opponents. “We feel Venus is a Russian planet,” Rogozin said after scientists discovered phosphine in the clouds of Venus in 2020.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Rogozin has been particularly outspoken on social media. In addition to his continuing spat with astronaut Scott Kelly, Putin has threatened to remove Russia from the ISS, a move he claims might result in the space station falling to Earth, endangering the United States, Europe, China, and India but not Russia. Even if Russia were to abandon the ISS, it would still be able to maintain it in orbit securely. 

Rogozin recently tweeted a video of Tom & Jerry with multiple characters identified as “Russia,” “Ukraine,” and “NATO” fighting each other with cartoonish brutality, in a strange illustration of this war’s “memeification.” Just last week, the Roscosmos boss had a Twitter argument with Elon Musk, another space-obsessed public figure notorious for making awful online jokes.