- STEVE GORMAN
A US astronaut is still due to share a return from the International Space Station with two cosmonauts aboard their Soyuz capsule later this month, despite US-Russian antagonism over the war in Ukraine, NASA officials said on Monday. .
NASA’s International Space Station program manager Joel Montalbano also said US-Russian cooperation aboard the orbital research outpost, which is currently home to four Americans, two Russians and a German European Space Agency, remained without tension.
International Space Station crew members Mark Vande Hei of NASA, cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos are pictured during a spacesuit check at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, April 9, 2021. PHOTO: Irina Spector/GCTC/Roscosmos/Handout via Reuters.
“We both need each other to make the International Space Station work,” Montalbano told a news conference about the two upcoming ISS spacewalks by members. NASA crew, the premiere of which was scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
The sustainability of the longstanding US-Russian collaboration in space was called into question last month when Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, suggested that US sanctions imposed on Moscow over the crisis could “destroy” the teamwork of the ISS and lead to the disappearance of the space station itself.
When US President Joe Biden announced high-tech export restrictions against President Vladimir Putin’s government on February 24, he said they were designed to “degrade” Russia’s aerospace industry, including its program. spatial.
A week later, Moscow retaliated by announcing it would stop supplying or servicing Russian-made rocket engines used by two US aerospace companies doing business with NASA.
Around the same time, Moscow said it had halted joint ISS research with Germany and forced the 11th-hour cancellation of a satellite launch that British broadband company OneWeb had been planning. planned to perform from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Rogozin also said last month that Roscosmos was suspending cooperation with European launch operations at the European spaceport in French Guiana.
Asked if the escalation of geopolitical tensions around Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special military operation”, could affect morale or US-Russian cooperation on station, Montalbano insisted that the ISS “interdependence” between the two former space rivals remains firmly intact.
“When you’re in space, there are no borders. You don’t see borders of countries or states,” Montalbano told reporters. “The teams continue to work together. Are they aware of what is happening on Earth? Absolutely. But the teams are professional,” he added. “They were trained to do a job, and they are going to do that job.”
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who traveled to the orbital outpost aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft launched last April from Baikonur, is due to return to Kazakhstan on March 30 in another Soyuz spacecraft with fellow cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov.
Montalbano said Roscosmos recently confirmed that “Mark Vande Hei is coming home on March 30 with Anton and Pyotr, period.”
Logging a NASA record 355 days in orbit upon his return, Vande Hei will be welcomed to Kazakhstan by a team of approximately 20 NASA personnel flying to the former Soviet republic for the return to home as they have done for previous rideshare takeoffs and landings by American astronauts over the years, Montalbano said.
The new team of three cosmonauts replacing Vande Hei, Dubrov and Shkaplerov aboard the ISS should arrive at the orbital laboratory on March 18 as scheduled, Montalbano added.
He said NASA was also still in talks with Roscosmos about a new “crew swap” deal that would pave the way for astronauts and cosmonauts to regularly share flights to the space station on spacecraft. other.
NASA began paying to fly its astronauts to the ISS on Soyuz after the US space shuttle ended in 2011, only resuming launches from US soil aboard SpaceX rockets in the last two years. None of these crews included cosmonauts.