NASA Says Astronaut Mark Vande Hei Won't Be Left in Space After Russian Video Sparks Fears

U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei will not be abandoned on the International Space Station (ISS), NASA has insisted amid speculation to the contrary.

Vande Hei has been on the ISS for over 300 days and as of today, March 15, has become the record holder for the most consecutive days spent in Earth orbit by a NASA astronaut.

He arrived on the ISS on April 9, 2021, aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft with a Russian crew. He is scheduled to return to Earth the same way on March 30.

However, according to various news reports, Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of Russian space corporation Roscosmos, has made threats that the organization would renege on its responsibility to ferry Vande Hei back to Earth.

These reports appear to have been made based on interpretations of a fictional video, seen here on Telegram, allegedly produced by Roscosmos that depicts the Russian segment of the ISS detaching from the rest of it. CNN reported that the video shows Russian cosmonauts waving goodbye to Vande Hei.

Still Cooperating

In a statement to Newsweek, NASA said this will not be the case.

"On March 30, a Soyuz spacecraft will return as scheduled carrying NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov back to Earth," the space agency said.

"NASA continues working with all our international partners, including the State Space Corporation Roscosmos, for the ongoing safe operations of the International Space Station, including work to fly crew members to the orbital outpost and to return them safely to Earth."

Newsweek also contacted Roscosmos for comment, but didn't receive a reply.

Last week, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly commented on speculation that Vande Hei could be left on the ISS, telling CNN that such a situation was "unimaginable," but added that he did not know whether Russia would do such a thing or not.

Asked about the origin of the claims that Russia could leave Vande Hei on board the ISS, Kelly told Newsweek on Monday: "I don't know if anyone specifically stated that. There was a video they produced that showed it. Plus they've said many other provocative things."

Since Russia's widely condemned invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the future of space cooperation between Russia and the U.S. has been thrown into uncertainty as relations between the two countries deteriorated.

Roscosmos has worked with NASA for decades as a key partner in manning and maintaining the ISS, and from 2011 until 2020 the U.S. also relied on Russian rockets and capsules to get astronauts there and back again.

Yet in recent weeks, Rogozin has made incendiary remarks about Russia's relationship with other countries in space in response to international sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

The ISS, as a symbol of international cooperation, was one of Rogozin's first targets. In a series of tweets last month on the day Russia launched its invasion, Rogozin suggested the space station could fall out of its orbit without Russia's continued participation—though several experts have told Newsweek that NASA could operate the space station alone if it had to.

Mark Vande Hei
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei seen at the Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, in August, 2017. Vande Hei is due to return to Earth on March 30, after spending nearly one whole year in space. STR/AFP/Getty