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US astronaut slated to return to Earth on Russian rocket this month as tensions mount over Ukraine

Astronaut Mark Vande Hei
Posted at 8:56 AM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 12:13:29-05

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is testing longstanding international agreements, including the one that allows the International Space Station to function.

In fact, the rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia come just weeks before American astronaut Mark Vande Hei is slated to ride a Russian rocket from the ISS back into Earth's atmosphere before landing in Kazakhstan, according to both ABC News and The Washington Post.

Vande Hei has already spent nearly a year in space. According to Space.com, the length of his mission — 355 days — will break the all-time record of 340 days. He's slated to return to Earth on March 30.

So far, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions by the U.S. and other countries have not prompted changes to Vande Hei's return to Earth. NASA officials say that U.S. and Russian space officials will essentially work as "one team" in bringing Vande Hei home.

In addition, The Post reports that the Biden administration recently announced it wanted to keep its space partnership with Russia in place through 2030 despite rising tensions between the two countries.

But there's no doubt that the invasion of Ukraine has had an impact on the U.S. and Russia's mutual space exploration goals. When Russian troops entered Ukraine late last month, President Joe Biden announced a round of sanctions on Russia that he said would "degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program."

Days later, ABC News reports that Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia's Space Agency, posted a series of hostile tweets in which he threatened to have Russia leave Vande Hei behind in space. Rogozin is reportedly a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Rogozin's tweets prompted an angry response from Scott Kelly, a former astronaut.

"I just hope people realize and want to keep this partnership together because it is one of the few things that unites all of humanity together," Kelly told ABC News. "I think one of the biggest successes of the International Space Station is the international aspect of giving us something to work on together, that makes us friends."

Russia and the U.S. are currently slated to occupy the ISS until it's decommissioned in 2030.