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US Astronaut Will Return to Earth on Russian Spacecraft: NASA

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Despite geopolitical tensions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has affected space cooperation between the US and Russia, an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts will return to Earth together as planned earlier, NASA has said.

NASA’s Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov have long been scheduled to come home from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on March 30.

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“I can tell you for sure: Mark is coming home on that Soyuz,” Joel Montalbano, the manager of NASA’s ISS program, said during a news conference on Monday.

“We are in communication with our Russian colleagues; there’s no fuzz on that.”

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Montalbano added that the March 30 event will proceed like other Soyuz returns, and the astronauts Vande Hei, Dubrov, and Shkaplerov will touch down on the steppes of Kazakhstan, Space.com reported.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, has spurred the US and other nations to impose new economic sanctions on Russia.

Russia and its federal space agency, Roscosmos, have decried those sanctions and pulled out of several longstanding partnerships in response.

Roscosmos announced late last month that it was halting launches of Russian-built Soyuz rockets from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. And in early March, the agency said it would no longer sell Russian rocket engines to American companies.

The moves led to some speculation that the ISS program, in which Russia is a key partner, may be in trouble as well. But Montalbano said that the orbiting lab is operating as usual despite the issues on the ground, the report said.

“We’re not seeing any impacts [from] what’s going on around us,” he said. “We’re aware of what’s going on, but we are able to do our job to continue operations.”

He also said that the invasion has not compromised morale or professionalism among the seven astronauts — four Americans, two Russians, and one German — currently living on the station.

“They continue to operate, you know, above all this work, and there’s really no tension with the team,” Montalbano said. “They’ve been trained to do a job, and they’re up there doing that job.”

He also stressed that the International Space Station and its various systems were designed to be highly interdependent, so it wouldn’t be easy to replace the jobs done by a key partner, should one choose to leave, the report said.

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