Imagine being aboard the International Space Station and learning your Russian crewmates intend on abandoning you up there because down on Earth, your government sanctioned their government.
That is the horrifying possible scenario that’s been circulating on social media for more than a week now, following a video made by Roscosmos, the Russian state corporation responsible for space flights, and posted to Telegram by Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
The video shows Russian cosmonauts saying their goodbyes to American astronaut Mark Vande Hei and detaching the Russian segment of the ISS, leaving, the clip implies, Vande Hei stranded in space.
According to a translation from Newsweek, RIA Novosti captioned the post with: “The Roscosmos television studio jokingly demonstrated the possibility of Russia withdrawing from the ISS project — the undocking of the Russian segment of the station, without which the American part of the project cannot exist.”
The video was then reposted by NASA Watch, an unofficial NASA news site, on Twitter with an ominous caption of its own, stating that Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Olegovich Rogozin “is clearly threatening the ISIS program.”
Russian gov't-controlled RIA Novosti @rianru posted a video on Telegram made by @Roscosmos where cosmonauts say goodbye to Mark Vande Hei on #ISS, depart, and then the Russian segment detaches from the rest of ISS. @Rogozin is clearly threatening the ISS program. #NASA #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/fj2coK1xR1
— NASA Watch (@NASAWatch) March 5, 2022
That was all it took to spark a bit of a frenzy in the media and across the internet.
The Daily Mail picked the story up and ran with a headline that screamed: “Head of Russia’s space program posts sinister video threatening to LEAVE BEHIND US astronaut, 55, aboard International Space Station and only fly home his cosmonauts on March 30 because of Biden’s sanctions over Ukraine invasion.”
And on Twitter, former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly got into a heated back-and-forth with Rogozin, whom Kelly criticized for threatening to pull out of the ISS in response to U.S. sanctions.
“Get off, you moron! Otherwise, the deat of the International Space Station will be on your conscience.” Rogozin tweeted, before quickly hitting delete.
But not fast enough. Kelly shot back a reply in Russian, asking Rogozin, “why did you delete this tweet?”
“Don’t you want everyone to see what kind of child you are?” Kelly jabbed.
Димон, ты почему удалил этот твит? Не хочешь, чтобы все увидели, какой ты в сущности ребёнок? pic.twitter.com/xSScT2cSGu
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) March 7, 2022
With so many sabers rattling, you’d be forgiven if you viewed the situation as critical. Many clearly did.
But according to former NASA engineer and advisor to the National Space Counsel Homer Hickum, the whole thing is likely much ado about nothing.
“The Russians are acting pretty irrationally these days, so it’s really kind of difficult to predict what they are going to do, but I am not concerned,” Hickum said during an appearance Monday on “Fox & Friends First.”
“If they do decide to be completely irrational about this and leave Mark up there, not bring him back on the Soyuz at the end of the month as per the schedule, we’ve got two Dragon flights going up, American Dragon flights, the AX-1 mission at the end of the month and in the middle of April, the Crew Four mission,” Hickum explained. “The Dragon is actually designed to carry as many as six astronauts. We could put an extra seat in there and bring Mark back.”
According to Hickum’s sources, “NASA has heard nothing officially to the extent that Mark’s not going to be brought back.”
As Hickum notes, Russia would benefit far more from magnanimously returning Vande Hei than from abandoning him.
“The Russians, there is no up side for the Russians pulling this kind of thing,” Hickum said. “If they bring him back, they’ll be able to say, ‘Hey look! We’re still a great space power. We’re bringing Americans back from orbit.’ So, I really do not see them pulling this off, but they do love to threaten, and that’s what they are doing now.”
Over on Twitter, Space.com agrees.
The news group tweeted out an article on Friday debunking the claim.
No, Russia hasn't claimed it will abandon an American astronaut on the space station https://t.co/glatmgH8E0
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) March 12, 2022
“While NASA is seeking ‘operational flexibility’ in dealing with Roscosmos,” the article states, “the American agency still expects Vande Hei to come down as planned and then fly home to Houston via normal procedures, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations Kathy Lueders emphasized late last month.”
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