Who is Mark Vande Hei? Russian space program head threatens to leave US astronaut in space

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin has threatened to leave US astronaut Mark Vande Hei in space as the US is siding with Ukraine amid Russia's invasion of the country


                            Who is Mark Vande Hei? Russian space program head threatens to leave US astronaut in space
US astronaut Mark Vande Hei is scheduled to return from ISS on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on March 30 (@Astro_sabot/Twitter)
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Russia's space program posted a sinister video apparently threatening to leave an American astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as it comes crashing down to Earth as the US is helping Ukraine amid Russia's invasion of the eastern European country.

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Mark Vande Hei, an astronaut from Texas, is scheduled to return to Kazakhstan from ISS with two Russian cosmonauts on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on March 30 after spending nearly a year onboard the space station. But as the US has imposed sanctions on Russia for human rights violations it is committing in its siege of Ukraine, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has threatened to leave the American astronaut in space.

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The video was also posted on Twitter by NASA and was also shared by Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti. It features upbeat music with the lyrics 'Farewell' as the two cosmonauts onboard the ISS with Vande Hei wave him goodbye and detach Russia's segment of the station which would send it spiraling to Earth.

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The news has caused stress among Vande Hei's family. In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, his mother Mary told, "It's a terrible threat. When I first heard it I did a lot of crying. It's very troubling. We are just doing a lot of praying. It is really a shame that it's been politicized like this. It's quite a shock. His wife, Julie, is very worried in Texas. It's very hard for her right now."

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His father Tom also told the publication, "These threats are just one person speaking and, though it's the head of the Russian space agency, all the other people within the space agency seem very co-operative. Our son does not scare easily."

Who is Mark Vande Hei?

Mark Vande Hei is a 55-year-old astronaut, born in Virginia, and raised in New Jersey and Minnesota. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics from St. John's University in 1989, before being commissioned into the Army through the ROTC program, where he served as a combat engineer.

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Russian space agency threatens to leave US astronauts in space (@Astro_sabot/Twitter)

 

In 1999, he became an assistant professor of physics at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and 10 years later, he was selected as an astronaut. His first space flight was in 2018 as an Expedition 53/54 crew member, during which, he conducted spacewalks, researched microgravity, and measured the sun's energy input to Earth.

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He joined the two Russian cosmonauts on the Expedition 64/65 crew last April, tasked with conducting hundreds of experiments to learn more about living in space, which NASA said was critical to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight, and those insights gained will help send humans to the moon and eventually to Mars. He has been in space for nearly a year, and his wife and his two children are eagerly waiting for him to come back.

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What are the authorities doing?

According to a report by DailyMail, upon hearing the news, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has offered to send his SpaceX rocket to rescue the US astronaut if the Russians abandon him. However, NASA officials informed that they are confident that Vande Hei will return as planned.

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NASA issued a statement, "NASA continues working with Roscomos and our other international partners in Canada, Europe, and Japan to maintain safe and continuous International Space Station operations. On March 30, a Soyuz spacecraft will return as scheduled carrying NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov back to Earth."

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"Upon their return, Vande Hei will hold the American record for the longest single human spaceflight mission of 355 days," the statement further read.