Moscow brings two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut back to Earth

Image released by the Russian space agency Roscosmos of the landing of the Soyuz MS-1 capsule in Kazakhstan with two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut on board, March 30, 2022 (Russian Space Agency Roscosmos/Handout)

Image released by the Russian space agency Roscosmos of the landing of the Soyuz MS-1 capsule in Kazakhstan with two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut on board, March 30, 2022 (Russian Space Agency Roscosmos/Handout)

A Soyuz spacecraft brought two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut back to Earth on Wednesday from the International Space Station, a rare example of cooperation between Washington and Moscow amid tensions over Ukraine.

The Soyuz MS-19 capsule, aboard which were the Russians Anton Chkaplerov and Piotr Doubrov, as well as the American Mark Vande Hei, landed in southeastern Kazakhstan at 11:28 GMT as scheduled, according to images released by the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

Three helicopters immediately landed next to the ship to pick up passengers returning from space.

After several men dragged him out of the capsule, Mr. Chkaplerov gave a thumbs up to indicate that he was okay, with a broad smile.

“The descent to low orbit and landing went smoothly, the crew is in good health,” Roscosmos said in a statement.

The two Russian cosmonauts will be transported aboard a special aircraft to a Russian base in the Moscow region to readjust to life on Earth, a process that will take several weeks, the space agency added.

Russian cosmonaut Anton Chkaplerov after landing the Soyuz MS-19 capsule on March 30, 2022 near Jezkazgan, Kazakhstan (NASA/Bill INGALLS)

Russian cosmonaut Anton Chkaplerov after landing the Soyuz MS-19 capsule on March 30, 2022 near Jezkazgan, Kazakhstan (NASA/Bill INGALLS)

Roscosmos does not provide details about the astronaut.

This trip takes place in a context of strong tensions around Ukraine between Russia and Western countries, led by the United States, which have called into question several projects in the field of space cooperation.

Earlier in March, Roscosmos had posted a video joking that Mark Vande Hei might stay on the ISS instead of returning with the Soyuz spacecraft. Given the concern of the Americans, the Russian agency then had to make sure that the astronaut would indeed be on the trip.

Mark Vande Hei holds the record for the most consecutive days spent in space by an American astronaut, at 355 days.

American astronaut Mark Vande Hei after landing the Soyuz MS-19 capsule near Jezkazgan on March 30, 2022 in Kazakhstan. (NASA / Bill INGALLS)

American astronaut Mark Vande Hei after landing the Soyuz MS-19 capsule near Jezkazgan on March 30, 2022 in Kazakhstan. (NASA / Bill INGALLS)

In this context of tensions, the head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin, who multiplies nationalist statements on social networks, stated in mid-March that the operation of Russian ships supplying the ISS will be interrupted by Western sanctions against Moscow in connection with the invasion of Ukraine.

According to him, it could even cause the ISS to “drop off or land”.

Space cooperation between Russia and Western countries was one of the few areas not to suffer greatly from the tensions that have been building since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

But in recent weeks, various cooperation projects have borne the brunt of the crisis around Ukraine.

Graphic showing the 2 Russian cosmonauts and the American astronaut who return to earth on March 30 and those who remain in the International Space Station (ISS) (AFP /)

Graphic showing the 2 Russian cosmonauts and the American astronaut who return to earth on March 30 and those who remain in the International Space Station (ISS) (AFP /)

The European Space Agency (ESA) thus announced in mid-March that it had suspended the Russian-European ExoMars mission and the search for alternatives to launch four other missions due to the offensive in Ukraine.

And for its part, Moscow has suspended the launch of the OneWeb satellites, forcing its British operator to turn to billionaire Elon Musk’s US company SpaceX.

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