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US astronaut and two cosmonauts get down to Earth in a Soyuz capsule
by AFP Staff Writers
Almaty, Kazakhstan (AFP) March 30, 2022

A record-breaking US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts reached Earth Wednesday, with tensions between Moscow and the West soaring over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Russia's space agency Roscosmos said.

"The crew of Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, as well as NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, has returned to Earth," Roscosmos said after footage showed the Soyuz descent module touching down at the expected time of 1128 GMT.

NASA's Mark Vande Hei is returning after setting a new record for the single longest spaceflight by a NASA astronaut, clocking 355 days aboard the International Space Station.

Vande Hei is joined by cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov, with whom he blasted off from Baikonur in April last year, and who now holds the record for the longest mission by a Russian at the ISS.

Anton Shkaplerov, who is rounding off a standard six-month mission, is the third member of the returning crew.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have been in tatters since the Kremlin launched an invasion of Ukraine last month, killing thousands and forcing four million people to flee the country.

Space was one of the few areas of cooperation between Russia and the West untouched by the fallout of Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, but here, too, tensions are growing.

The ISS, a collaboration between the US, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, is expected to be wound up in the next decade.

Last month, Roscosmos chief Dmitri Rogozin, an avid supporter of what Moscow has called a "special military operation" in Ukraine, suggested that Western sanctions targeting Russia in response had put the orbital lab in jeopardy.

"If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from uncontrolled deorbiting and falling on US or European territory?" Rogozin wrote in a tweet last month -- noting that the station does not fly over much of Russia.

Rogozin has also traded barbs on Twitter with the now-retired astronaut Scott Kelly, who has been sharply critical of the invasion.

US astronaut and two cosmonauts return from ISS in Russian Soyuz capsule
Washington DC (SPX) Mar 31, 2022 - After extending the record for the longest single spaceflight in history by an American to 355 days, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei returned to Earth on Wednesday, March 30, along with Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.

The trio departed the International Space Station at 3:21 a.m. EDT and made a safe, parachute-assisted landing at 7:28 a.m. (5:28 p.m. Kazakhstan time) southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

"Mark's mission is not only record-breaking, but also paving the way for future human explorers on the Moon, Mars, and beyond," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. "Our astronauts make incredible sacrifices in the name of science, exploration, and cutting-edge technology development, not least among them time away from loved ones. NASA and the nation are proud to welcome Mark home and grateful for his incredible contributions throughout his year-long stay on the International Space Station."

Vande Hei's extended mission will provide researchers the opportunity to observe the effects of long-duration spaceflight on humans as the agency plans to return to the Moon under the Artemis program and prepare for exploration of Mars.

Vande Hei launched April 9, 2021, alongside Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov. His second journey into space of 355 days is the longest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut, previously held at 340 days, and gives him a lifetime total of 523 days in space. Dubrov also remained onboard for 355 days on his first spaceflight.

Supporting NASA's goals for future human landings on the Moon, Vande Hei completed approximately 5,680 orbits of the Earth and a journey of more than 150 million miles, roughly the equivalent of 312 trips to the Moon and back. He witnessed the arrival of 15 visiting spacecraft and new modules, and the departure of 14 visiting spacecraft.

Following post-landing medical checks, the crew will return to the recovery staging city in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, aboard Russian helicopters. Vande Hei will board a NASA plane bound for Cologne, Germany, for refueling prior to his return home. Shkaplerov and Dubrov will board a Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center aircraft to return to their home in Star City, Russia.

During his record mission, Vande Hei spent many hours on scientific activities aboard the space station, conducting everything from plant research to physical sciences studies.

With the undocking of the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft with Vande Hei, Shkaplerov, and Dubrov aboard, Expedition 67 officially began aboard the station. NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn recently took over as station commander, and is joined by NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Kayla Barron, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, and Sergey Korsakov.

Marshburn, Chari, Barron and Maurer will remain onboard until late April, when NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins, as well as ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti launch to the station as part of NASA's SpaceX Crew-4 mission.

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Russian, US ISS record-holders return to earth
Almaty, Kazakhstan (AFP) March 30, 2022
A record-breaking US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts were headed for Earth Wednesday in the first space landing since Russia's invasion of Ukraine sent tensions between Moscow and the West to Cold War levels. NASA's Mark Vande Hei is set to touch down in Kazakhstan's steppe at 1128 GMT, after setting a new record for the single longest spaceflight by a NASA astronaut by clocking 355 days aboard the International Space Station. Russia's space agency Roscosmos confirmed Wednesday that the thr ... read more

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