NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who is stationed aboard the International Space Station (ISS), is scheduled to return back to Earth awkwardly in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft amid the tensions between Russia and United States developing on the ground due to the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war.
Soon after Russia's Ukraine invasion, the international space community distanced itself from the country ruled by Vladimir Putin. But reports suggest that for many years, astronauts were sent to and from the ISS on Russia's Soyuz rockets, especially after NASA retired the Space Shuttle in 2011.
And with SpaceX's Crew Dragon shifting the power dynamics as it allows NASA to send astronauts to ISS directly again, the situation started to change over the past few years. But Vande Hei went to the station on a Soyuz last year, which means he'll have to return home in it, according to a a website - futurism.com.
Vande Hei could have avoided the awkward trip if he crowd into Axiom Space's upcoming private Ax-1 mission when it returns back to earth. But NASA responded 'negative' when a space reporter asked whether that was being considered.
Hence, with his return to earth, Vande Hei could be one of the last NASA astronauts to rely on Russia's Soyuz Spacecraft reasons being - SpaceX's increasing prowess and breaking-point tensions between Russia and the United States.
Who is Mark Vande Hei?
Mark Vande Hei is an astronaut selected by NASA in 2009. The Virginia-born astronaut is a graduate from Saint John's University with a master's degree in Applied Physics from Stanford University. He served as a combat engineer after being commissioned in the U.S. Army through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program, which offers assistance to students for study in exchange for military service after graduation.
In 1999, Vande Hei became an assistant professor and taught Physics at the United States Military Academy in West Point. Vande Hei has two children and is married to wife Julie. According to a blog post on NASA's website, the astronaut enjoys watersports and reading apart from exercising and backpacking. He is currently a Flight engineer aboard the International Space Station for Expedition 65.