When NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei returned to Earth from the International Space Station, tensions between Russian cosmonauts and US astronauts escalated on board.
After 355 days in space, Hei landed in Kazakhstan last month with two Russian colleagues. The astronauts openly said at the time that they preferred to avoid a political violation between their countries.
However, in a recent interview with The Washington Post, Hei admitted that life on the ISS is not pleasant. The astronaut stated at one point that it was natural for him to influence cosmonauts and that they would occasionally disagree with their counterparts on international matters.
He said he had to accept that American culture had distorted the Russians, especially in the movie. These moments often come during the weekly movie night, where astronauts from both sides of the ISS gather to watch movies.
However, Hollywood's prejudices about Russians made things unpleasant. Hei said, “At some point I realized that all the bad guys are Russian. It gives me a little shudder to even think about it because at one point I looked at my cosmonaut teammates and said, 'How does that make you feel?' I said. The US was portraying the Russians as the bad guys.”
The Russian and NASA-led sections of the station are separate but intertwined. Russian cargo ships provide periodic support to prevent the station from colliding with the atmosphere, and Russian solar panels provide power.
The long-term fate of the space station is still uncertain. The current agreement between the two countries continues until 2024. NASA is extending its operations to 2030 in an effort to entice companies interested in launching future commercial outposts in space.
Russia has refused to accept the extension and is considering cooperating with China in space.
However, it is unclear how much Roscosmos can do with its limited resources, which will tighten as international relations end. Also, sending NASA astronauts into orbit will no longer be a source of income for Moscow.
For nearly a decade after the space shuttle was decommissioned, the Russian Soyuz was the only option for Americans to commute to and from the space station. NASA is currently using SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, and a second Boeing spacecraft, the Starliner, could begin carrying astronauts later this year.
The Friction Between the West and Moscow in Space
Space relations between the USA and Russia became strained as a result of the invasion of Ukraine. The war had an impact on a number of programs, including stopping the launch of European satellites to Russian rockets.
Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russia's space agency, denounced the United States for seeking to "destroy" cooperation on the International Space Station just a day after Russia invaded Ukraine.
“If you restrict cooperation with us, who will protect the ISS from an uncontrolled descent from orbit and subsequent fall on the territory of the United States or Europe?” she asked.
NASA, on the other hand, tossed the comments aside. The agency claimed that it will continue to work with all its international partners, including Russia, and remain unaffected by export restrictions.
As a result of the Russian occupation, the launches were canceled and the contracts were terminated.
Russia has also lifted flags of other countries from a Soyuz rocket carrying internet satellites. The launch was canceled due to London-based OneWeb's failure to comply with Rogozin's requirement that the satellites not be used for military purposes.
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency announced that its rover with ExoMars Roscosmos has been suspended indefinitely due to the conflict in Ukraine. However, the Russian space agency will face long-term budgetary problems due to the sanctions.