Rumors circulated Monday after Dmitry Rogozin, Roscosmos’ Directer-General, posted on his Telegram channel that the Russians would not bring NASA Astronaut Mark Vande Hei back down from the space station. However, cooperation continues between the two agencies behind the scenes to ensure the partnership does not cease.
The Telegram post showed clips of Vande Hei hugging cosmonauts in what seemed like a welcoming or goodbye ceremony, then the undocking of a Soyuz spacecraft. Many took this as a threat to leave the astronaut on the station as retaliation for US sanctions.
However, Roscosmos in a statement through the Russian news agency TASS stated there is no change in the plan to return Astronaut Vande Hei on the MS-19 Soyuz spacecraft at the end of this month. Despite Rogozin’s tantrums on social media, reports show that cooperation between Roscosmos, NASA, and other ISS partners remains strong.
It’s important to remember that Rogozin isn’t an industry executive or manager of specific program: he is a politician, similar to NASA’s Administrator Bill Nelson. Most of the management of the agency’s programs happens far below him, and so far, there is nothing to show that his opinions have swayed its programs, like the ISS, towards retaliation at this level.
First all cosmonaut crew to launch to ISS this week
In Russia’s continued support of the ISS, the agency will launch Soyuz MS-21 as soon as March 18. This will be the first time Russia will launch a crew of three Russian cosmonauts to the ISS now that the US is no longer purchasing seats directly from the country. Onboard will be Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, and Sergey Korsakov, who plan to be on the station for the standard six months stay.
We expect NASA coverage of the MS-21 launch to occur, as the agency has covered all Russian launches to the space station no matter who is on the flights. But how the agency will balance staying politically neutral and keeping the US anti-war in Ukraine stance will be interesting to see.
Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NASA and Roscosmos were in negotiations to begin swapping seats on SpaceX Dragon and Soyuz flights similar to what took place during the Space Shuttle program. Now that tensions between the countries have been escalated, there has been no update on how those negotiations are going. However, a signed agreement was expected.