Russian video of cosmonauts leaving US astronaut behind ahead of scheduled ISS return seen as threat

After supposed threats from Russia regarding the International Space Station, the real ramifications of the propaganda war are felt here at home.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Astronaut Mark Vande Hei has been at the International Space Station (ISS) since he launched in April 2021 from the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan. After 355 days in orbit, he is expected to make his return voyage on March 30 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft along with two Russian cosmonauts, according to The Daily Mail.

However, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Dmitry Rogozin the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, has cast unnecessary doubts on the international view of cooperation between space programs. Rogozin had shared a video on social media that depicted the cosmonauts leaving Vande Hei behind and detaching the Russian portion of ISS from the remainder of the station.

This followed the sanctions imposed by President Joe Biden which he described would “degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program.”

Rogozin had said, “Do you want to destroy our co-operation on the ISS? If you block co-operation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled de-orbit and fall into the United States or Europe?”

Now, Rogozin is reported as saying, “The populations of other countries, especially those led by the ‘dogs of war,’ should think about the price of the sanctions against Roscosmos.”

These threats have brought serious concern to the parents of Vande Hei and his wife and kids. Having heard the news, there was no way for them to distinguish between whether the threat from Rogozin was serious or a joke, as it has since been suggested to be.

“It’s a terrible threat,” Vande Hei’s mother 77-year-old mother Mary said. “When I first heard it I did a lot of crying. It’s very troubling. We are just doing a lot of praying.”

Mary and her husband Tom traveled with Vande Hei to Kazakhstan to watch he first launch of the ISS in 2017 saying, “It was wonderful to see people from all different countries work together. Mark has great relationships with all the astronauts and cosmonauts.”

Tom added, “These threats are just one person speaking and, though it’s the head of the Russian space agency, all the other people within the space agency seem very cooperative. Our son does not scare easily.”

Ars Technica has also covered this story and it is their determination that Vande Hei could not be left behind. “At present,” senior space editor Eric Berger wrote, “there are three other Americans living on board the International Space Station–Raja Chari, Kayla Barron, and Thomas Marshburn.”

“There is also an allied astronaut, Matthias Maurer, from Germany,” Berger went on. “NASA has its own transportation to and from the station, so Vande Hei can be assured of a safe ride home whenever NASA wants.”

Berger did go on to add that the ISS partnership could change as a result of these unfavorable public relations and because of the sanctions and ongoing turmoil. It is his belief that “Rogozin appears to be playing to his domestic audience” while the people of Roscosmos “continue the hard work of keeping a 20-year-old station…flying high.”

NASA also released a reminder Saturday that Vande Hei was still expected to return to Earth soon.

This is just another example of a rapidly evolving social media landscape where stories can spread quickly without accuracy or certainty behind them. Much like the story of the defenders of Snake Island and the Ghost of Kyiv, it is difficult to parse through fact and fiction, especially as some have argued it is the reaction to the story that is more important than the story itself.


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Kevin Haggerty


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