For the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine, NASA managers addressed the tensions with its International Space Station partner, saying that nothing has changed, and the agency will continue to work with Roscosmos.
NASA hosted a news conference Monday ahead of two upcoming extravehicular activities (EVA), known as spacewalks, outside the orbiting laboratory.
ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano said despite increasingly inflammatory comments from the head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin, the U.S. space agency will continue to partner with Russia on the ISS as it has for more than 20 years.
"Nothing has changed in the last three weeks," Montalbano said. "The control centers operate successfully, flawlessly, seamlessly. We're not seeing any impact on what's going on around us. We do our jobs. We're aware of what's going on, but we are able to do our job to continue operations."
Since Russia began its attack on Ukraine more than three weeks ago, Rogozin has taken to social media to retaliate against sanctions by the U.S. and its allies. Thus far, he has refused to launch a UK-satellite company's payloads and stopped supplying Russian-built rocket engines to U.S. customers and threatened to cut ties with its International Space Station partners, including NASA.
NASA Astronaut Mark Vande Hei is preparing to return to Earth on March 30 after 355 days in space. His flight home will be with two Russian cosmonauts on a Russian Soyuz, landing in Kazakhstan.
There has been concern about the upcoming spaceflight that puts an American astronaut on Russian soil, or Vande Hei would be left on the ISS in retaliation. Montalbano said Vande Hei is absolutely coming home on the Soyuz.
"I can tell you for sure Mark is coming home on that Soyuz," Montalbano said. "There's been some discussion about that. But I can tell you we're ready. Our Roscosmos colleagues have confirmed that they're ready to bring the whole crew home, all three of them."
The American astronaut will be picked up by a NASA plane and welcomed at the landing site by a group of officials from NASA and the U.S. Embassy, which is standard procedure.
After his return, Vande Hei will hold the American record for the longest single human spaceflight mission.
WORLD’S LARGEST AIRPLANE DESTROYED DURING ATTACK ON AIRPORT NEAR KYIV
There are spacewalks planned for March 15 and March 23. NASA Astronauts Raja Chari and Kayla Barron will exit the airlock on Tuesday to assemble and install modifications kits to support solar array upgrades on the station. The kits will support the second of six ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays (iROSA). The iROSAs are part of the plan to upgrade the ISS power system over the next year and a half.
The pair will spend about 6.5 hours outside the ISS for the installation. Barron will wear a suit with red stripes. Chari will wear a suit with no stripes.
Barron and Chari are both part of the 2017 NASA astronaut class, nicknamed the turtles. Barron posted to Instagram Monday saying after "4.5 years training and working alongside one another [Chari] and I are feeling ready and excited for the first all-turtle spacewalk!"
For the March 23 spacewalk, NASA managers said the astronauts would be assigned after Tuesday’s EVA is complete.
Despite the turmoil happening 200 miles below on Earth, the astronauts continue to work together just fine on the ISS, Montalbano said, adding they are there to do a job.
"When you're in space, there are no borders, you don't see country lines or state lines," he said. "The teams continue to work together. Are they aware of what's going on Earth? Absolutely. But the teams are professional. The astronauts and cosmonauts are some of the most professional groups you've ever seen."