A US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts have landed in Kazakhstan after leaving the International Space Station aboard the same capsule despite heightened antagonism between Moscow and Washington over the conflict in Ukraine.
The Russian Soyuz capsule carrying NASA’s Mark Vande Hei and his cosmonaut peers Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov undocked from the International Space Station at 2:45 am EDT (06:45 GMT) on Wednesday.
They made a safe parachute-assisted landing in Kazakhstan at 7:28 am EDT (11:28 GMT).
Vande Hei, 55, logged a US space-endurance record of 355 consecutive days in orbit, surpassing the previous 340-day record set by astronaut Scott Kelly in 2016, according to NASA.
The all-time world record for the longest single stay in space was set by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov who spent more than 14 months aboard the Mir space station, returning to Earth in 1995.
Dubrov, 40, who launched to the ISS with Vande Hei last April from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, will be completing his first spaceflight, sharing 5,680 Earth orbits and more than 150 million miles in space with Vande Hei, NASA said.
Shkaplerov, 50, just ending his rotation as the latest ISS commander, is a veteran of four missions to the orbital outpost, accumulating 708 total days in space, far exceeding Vande Hei’s 523-day career tally, according to NASA.
The cosmonaut handed over the command of the station to NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn during a change of command ceremony.
“Even if people have problems on Earth, on orbit we are one crew and I think ISS is a symbol of friendship and cooperation and the symbol of future of exploration of space,” Shkaplerov said on Tuesday as he handed over the keys.
The joint US-Russian return flight from ISS was closely watched for signs that escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington over the Russian invasion of Ukraine had spilled over into longtime cooperation in space between the two former Cold War adversaries.
Announcing US economic sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government on February 24, US President Joe Biden ordered high-tech export restrictions against Moscow that he said were designed to “degrade” Russia’s aerospace industry, including its space programme.
Dmitry Rogozin, director-general of Russian space agency Roscosmos, then lashed out in a series of Twitter posts suggesting the US sanctions could “destroy” ISS teamwork and lead to the space station falling out of orbit.
NASA, for its part, this week said that US and Russian ISS crew members were well aware of events on Earth but are working professionally together without tension.
“For the safety of our astronauts, the working relationship between NASA and our international partners continues,” Bill Nelson, the NASA administrator, said during a speech on Monday. “And that includes the professional relationship between the cosmonauts and our astronauts.”
But other relations in space were fragmented after the Russian-Ukraine war. The European State Agency said it was indefinitely suspending its ExoMars rover mission with partner Roscosmos, Russia’s state corporation, and OneWeb, a UK space constellation, was forced to cancel the launch of its satellites on a Russian rocket.
“It’s a bit awkward the rest of the space industry has been thrown into turmoil by the Ukraine war … and yet at the ISS is as if nothing had happened …[and] they kind of have to, at some level, because they have so much money invested on this, ” astronomer Jonathan McDowell told Al Jazeera.