Mark Vande Hei: Nasa astronaut set to return to Earth with two cosmonauts from ISS on Russian spacecraft


Nasa astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who recently broke the US space programme record for the most consecutive days in space, is set to return to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday along with two other cosmonauts.

The crew, including Mr Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, is expected to begin their journey back to Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft and land back on Earth in the steppe, a vast open grassland, in Kazakhstan.

Nasa reported that the spacecraft would undock from the ISS on Wednesday at 7.21GMT, and land on Earth a few hours later.

Mr Dubrov and Mr Vanda Hei are completing a 35-day mission in space and aboard ISS that would have spanned 5,680 orbits around the Earth since their launch in April 2021.

Russian Soyuz rocket carrying astronauts is expected to land back on Earth in the steppe of Kazakhstan on Wednesday


Since the two began their mission aboard the ISS, US-Russia relations have deteriorated over Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Critics had earlier speculated if the Russian space agency Roscosmos would agree to bring the American astronaut back to Earth amid the sanctions imposed by the US on Russia amid its war in Ukraine.

Some of the sanctions are also expected to affect the Russian space agency’s future programmes.

The Russian space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin even uploaded to his Telegram channel an extract from a Fox News broadcast that claimed Russia might leave the Nasa astronaut in space, Russia’s state-owned news agency TASS had noted.

But the Russian space agency later officially confirmed it would bring back the US astronaut from the ISS as scheduled, and Nasa too said the orbiting lab would operate as usual with the astronauts continuing to do their jobs.

Mr Vande Hei, a former US Army officer, had earlier said he was avoiding conversations about Ukraine with the Russian cosmonauts, adding that they “haven’t talked about that too much.”

“I’m not sure we really want to go there,” Vande Hei told a TV interviewer in mid-February.

“People have problems on Earth. On orbit we are … one crew, like space brothers and sisters,” Mr Shkaplerov said during a change of command ceremony on Tuesday.

Mr Vanda Hei’s record for the most days spent consecutively by an American in space puts him third on the all-time endurance list of time spent in the final frontier with a tally of 523 days on his two flights – just behind astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jeff Williams.

The landing is controlled by the Russian mission control centre in the outskirts of Moscow in the town of Korolev.

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