International Space Station’s US and Russian astronauts will continue as normal despite outbreak of war, Nasa says

Jon Kelvey
Thursday 24 February 2022 22:44
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The International Space Station will continue as normal even amid the war in Ukraine, Nasa has said.

The space agency has confirmed that collaborative operations between it and the Russian space agency will still go on, despite the rapidly escalating tensions between their two countries.

“The International Space Station team is continuing to safely conduct research operations in low-Earth orbit,” a spokesperson said.

“Ongoing station operations continue including work to fly crew to the orbital outpost and to return them safely to Earth.”

That will include the return of Nasa astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who is set to come back to Earth on 30 March, using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The ISS currently hosts six people in addition to Vande Hei: ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, Nasa astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, and two Russian Cosmonauts, Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.

If the Soyuz return flight takes place as planned, Cosmonauts Shkaplerov and Dubrov will return to Earth with Mr Vande Hei.

Upon returning home, Mr Vande Hei will set a new American record with 355 consecutive days in space. He was originally supposed to return in October, but his mission was extended in order to accomodate a Russian filmmaker and actress shooting a movie on the space station.

Should something change due to the war in Ukraine and delay Mr Vande Hei’s return, it will not be the first time Russian politics have kept someone aloft longer than anticipated. In May 1991, Soviet Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev boarded the Mir Space Station, and didn’t come home until March 1992, his return delayed by the fall of the Soviet Government in December 1991.

Krikalev would later fly aboard Nasa’s space shuttle and the ISS, an example of the bilateral cooperation Nasa asserts will keep the space station, and other joint US-Russia space activities functioning despite the growing conflict in Ukraine.

“Nasa and its international partners have maintained a continuous and productive human presence aboard the International Space Station for more than 21 years,” a spokesperson said.

Cooperation will also continue on the ground, they noted, with three Russian Cosmonauts currently training at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Two Nasa astronauts completed training in Russia in February, the spokesperson said.

Nasa and the Russian Space Agency are not the only entities at play however, and it’s not yet clear if the conflict in and over Ukraine — and subsequent US and European sanctions — will affect commercial space launches and companies depending on launch services through Russia’s Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan.

Satellite constellation company OneWeb, of which the UK government is a part owner, is scheduled to launch satellites from Kazakhstan in early March. But a UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson referred The Independent to OneWeb for comment, and OneWeb did not respond to requests for information.

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