A U.S. astronaut has returned to Earth Wednesday aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft after nearly a full year aboard the International Space Station, during which relations between the two space giants plummeted over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The capsule carrying NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts, Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, completed a parachute-assisted landing on the snow-covered steppe of central Kazakhstan, several hours after undocking from the ISS.
For Vande Hei, it ended a U.S. record-breaking stay in space. He was in space for 355 days, breaking the previous record of 340 days set by Scott Kelly in 2016.
NASA says the two countries are continuing to cooperate on the ISS, although Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, posted a series of angry tweets shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, suggesting Russia could abandon the ISS and let it plummet back to Earth. He also shared a video showing Russian cosmonauts abandoning Vande Hei on the ISS.
But in a handover ceremony Tuesday before departing the orbital outpost, Shkaplerov, who commanded the latest ISS crew, expressed a more harmonious view.
“People have problems on Earth. On orbit we are one crew,” he said.
The invasion has led to fallout in other areas of cooperation between Moscow and other international partners in space travel. The European Space Agency has postponed an unmanned mission to Mars because it relied on a Russian rocket. And British-based satellite company One Web canceled a series of launches because they also relied on Russian-built rockets, shifting some of them to U.S.-based SpaceX.
Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.