Mark Vande Hei, a U.S. astronaut, has spent close to a year in space. But in the coming days, he must navigate his most complicated assignment yet – riding a Russian capsule back to Earth as tension between the two countries continues over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
NASA says Vande Hei will return home at the end of the month as planned, after breaking the record for most continuous days logged in space, which formerly belonged to Russia.
However, there is concern that Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of Roscosmos, essentially Russia's version of NASA, is his country's joint efforts the United States, particularly at the International Space Station.
Vande Hei is scheduled to return to Earth on March 30, along with two Russians aboard a capsule that will land in Kazakhstan.
The 55-year-old retired Army colonel told a TV interviewer last month that he was avoiding discussions about the Russia-Ukraine conflict with his fellow astronauts. "We haven’t talked about that too much. I’m not sure we really want to go there," he said.
The same cannot be said, however, of Rogozin, who in the past days has threatened to pull out of the International Space station and drop it on the U.S., Europe, or somewhere else, and has had the flags of other countries covered on a rocket awaiting liftoff with internet satellites earlier this month.