NASA on Monday said that astronaut Mark Vande Hei would return from the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft as scheduled despite tensions brought on by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. File Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo
March 14 (UPI) -- NASA on Monday said astronaut Mark Vande Hei would return from the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft as planned, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The space agency said Vande Hei, who was sent to the ISS in April of last year, is scheduled to land aboard the Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan and return to the United States on a Gulfstream jet -- as is customary for NASA astronauts -- on March 30.
Joel Montalbano, manager of NASA's International Space Station program, said that operations between NASA and Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, "continue to go well.
"I can tell you for sure Mark is coming home," he said.
The concern over Vande Hei's return came as the United States and other nations have sought to impose sanctions against Russia and various corporations have withheld their services from the nation after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine late last month.
NASA's assurances came after Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin threatened that Russian cosmonauts would abandon Vande Hei in space while criticizing U.S. President Joe Biden over the sanctions.
"Do you want to destroy our cooperation on the ISS? If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled de-orbit and fall into the United States or Europe?" Rogozin said.
Vande Hei's mother on Sunday said that Rogozin's comments drove her to tears.
"It's a terrible threat," she said. "When I first heard it I did a lot of crying. It's very troubling. We are just doing a lot of praying."
Montalbano told CNN that the International Space Station has "been the flagship model for international cooperation" when asked what NASA's plans were if cooperation with Russia were to falter.
"At this time there's no indication from our Russian partners that they want to do anything different," he said. "So, we are planning to continue operations as, as we are today."