Record-Setting NASA Astronaut, Russian Cosmonauts Land Back On Earth
By Jason Hall
March 30, 2022
The Russian Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft carrying Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov undocked from the International Space Station and touched down in Kazakhstan following a parachute-assisted landing at 7:28 a.m. ET on Wednesday (March 30), CNN reports.
The crew's entire return to Earth streamed live on NASA's television channel and official website, with the vessel's deorbit burn taking place at 6:34 a.m. and lasting more than four minutes to slow it down.
The Soyuz initially landed upright, but fell to its side after its parachute was pulled down by winds in the area and recovery teams helped the crew exit the vessel.
CNN reports the Russian mission control center's main screen shared the message, "Welcome back, Mark!" in both Russian and English upon the vessel's return to Earth.
The successful landing comes weeks after reports that Russia had threatened to abandon Vande Hei in space as sanctions levied by the U.S. in response to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine have reportedly divided the International Space Station.
ABC News reported the ISS -- which U.S. and Russian astronauts initially stepped inside in 1998 -- was split between the Russian Orbital Segment operated by Russia and the United States Orbital segment operated by the U.S. on March 11.
The U.S. shuttle program ended in 2011 and its astronauts have since relied on Russian rockets to return to their board station.
Dmitry Rogozin, who leads Russia's Space Agency and is a public supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, posted a video on February 26 threatening to leave Vande Hei behind in space and detach Russia's segment of the ISS completely in response to the United States' sanctions of Russia.
Russia had previously announced plans to abandon the ISS as early as 2025 even before the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Putin announced his country would conduct military operations in Eastern Ukraine during an NBC News translation of a speech addressing the Russian population prior to sunrise on February 24 in Moscow.
The announcement served as the final action ahead of an attack by Putin and the Russian military, which the U.S. and European allies to the neighboring Ukraine have attempted to prevent from taking place through diplomatic discussions.
A Ukraine interior minister confirmed to NBC News via text message that "cruise and ballistic missile strikes" were already underway shortly after Putin's announcement.
More than 1,000 protesters were reportedly arrested during anti-war protests throughout Russia amid President Putin's announcement to conduct military operations and ensuing attack on Ukraine, BNO News reported.