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NASA Astronaut Returns To Earth In Russian Spacecraft
Expedition 66 Soyuz Landing ZHEZKAZGAN, KAZAKHSTAN - MARCH 30: In this handout image provided by the U.S. National Aeronatics and Space Administration (NASA), Expedition 66 NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is carried to a medical tent shortly after he and fellow crew mates Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos landed in their Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft near the town of Zhezkazgan on March 30, 2022 in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Vande Hei and Dubrov are returning to Earth after logging 355 days in space as members of Expeditions 64-66 aboard the International Space Station. For Vande Hei, his mission is the longest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut in history. Shkaplerov is returning after 176 days in space, serving as a Flight Engineer for Expedition 65 and commander of Expedition 66. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images) Bill Ingalls/NASA / Handout via Getty Images
Bill Ingalls/NASA/Handout via Getty Images

A NASA astronaut returned to Earth on Wednesday after spending 355 days at the International Space Station in a new United States record. 

Mark Vande Hei came back in a Russian capsule, landing in Kazakhstan, after his journey. He returned with Russian Space Agency’s Pyotr Dubrov, who spent the past year in space, as well, and Anton Shkaplerov.

The Washington Post reported that the Soyuz spacecraft landed under a parachute at 7:28 a.m. EST, which was on time. 

The Associated Press reported that Vande Hei was the last one to exit, and he smiled and waved as he was carried to a chair.

“Beautiful out here,” said Vande Hei.

Rob Navias from NASA’s public affairs office reportedly said on NASA’s broadcast that it was “a perfect landing, a bull’s eye touchdown.” Before it landed, he said, “the crew feeling fine, everything going by the book.”

Navias noted that after the capsule landed it “was pulled over by the wind” and was on its side. He said that “is not unusual,” adding, “The search and recovery personnel are beginning the process of safing the vehicle.”

Russia and the United States work together in space and “NASA has said it cannot operate the station without the Russians, which provide the propulsion that allows the ISS to keep its orbit and maneuver when needed. Russia needs NASA, as well, as the space agency provides power to the Russian segment of the station,” per the Post. 

The increasingly tense environment between Russia and many other Western nations did not impede the regular protocol that takes place when an astronaut returns, but it appeared to be a topic on the minds of many. 

The AP noted:

Even before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Vande Hei said he was avoiding the subject with his two Russian crewmates. Despite getting along “fantastically … I’m not sure we really want to go there,” he said.

Before leaving the space station, Shkaplerov called his fellow astronauts “my space brothers and space sister.”

“People have problem on Earth. On orbit … we are one crew,” Shkaplerov reportedly said in a live NASA TV broadcast Tuesday. The space station is a symbol of “friendship and cooperation and … future of exploration of space.”

“I’ve had an indoor job 24-7 for almost a year so I am looking forward to being outside no matter what kind of weather,” Vande Hei said in recent NASA videos. He is also excited to make coffee for himself and his wife, and eating chips and guacamole. 

Elon Musk’s SpaceX started taking NASA astronauts up to the station in 2020, nine years after the conclusion of the shuttle program. 

The AP noted, “During that gap, Russia offered the lone taxi service, with NASA shelling out tens of millions of dollars per Soyuz seat. Vande Hei’s ride was part of a barter exchange with Houston-based Axiom.”

As The Daily Wire previously reported, “Retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, America’s former record holder, returned his Russian medal for space exploration to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., the [AP] noted. Despite this, Kelly said Russia and the U.S. can continue to work together in space.”

“We need an example set that two countries that historically have not been on the most friendly of terms, can still work somewhere peacefully. And that somewhere is the International Space Station. That’s why we need to fight to keep it,” Kelly told the AP.

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