After a series of strange and vague threats concerning the International Space Station (ISS) and relations with NASA in recent weeks, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has issued a statement to say it will bring a US astronaut scheduled for return on a Soyuz rocket home to Earth as planned.
Mark Vande Hei, a 55-year-old father of two from Texas, has been living on the ISS since April 2021. The astronaut has been scheduled to return to Earth in a Russian Soyuz capsule on March 30 together with two cosmonauts, but there were concerns that his return may be prevented due to sanctions imposed on Russia by the US over its invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti created a strange video that appeared to show the Russian segment breaking apart from the ISS, leaving Vande Hei behind. Now, it looks like Russia is trying to calm those fears sparked by the video.
"US astronaut Mark Vande Hei will travel back home in the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft together with Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov on March 30. Roscosmos has never let anybody doubt its reliability as a partner," said Roscosmos via the state-affiliated news agency TASS.
While many felt the video was just an empty threat or even a joke, others took the video seriously, claiming Russia was threatening to leave the US astronaut stranded in low-Earth orbit. Russia, in turn, ridiculed the US for taking the threat so seriously. The bombastic head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, took to Telegram to post a Fox News clip, appearing to mock the overreaction to the “joke.”
Rogozin, the former Russian ambassador to NATO and former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, is well-known for his vaguely threatening sense of humor and making outlandish statements to “troll” his rivals. When astronomers detected phosphine within the clouds of Venus in 2020, Rogozin remarked: “We believe that Venus is a Russian planet.”
Rogozin has been particularly provocative on social media following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. As well as his ongoing spat with astronaut Scott Kelly, he has repeatedly threatened to pull Russia from the ISS, a move which he says could result in the space station crashing to Earth, threatening the US, Europe, China, and India, but not Russia. Even if Russia was to withdraw from the ISS, however, it would still be possible to safely keep it in orbit.
In a surreal example of this war undergoing "memeification," Rogozin recently tweeted a video of Tom & Jerry with different characters labeled as "Russia," "Ukraine," and "NATO" attacking each other with cartoonish violence.
Just this week, the Roscosmos kingpin even got into a Twitter spat with another space-obsessed public figure known for making bad jokes on the internet, Elon Musk.