Even with Russian forces continuing their brutal invasion of Ukraine, one might hope that at least the vast depths of space would remain peaceful. But the Russians won’t have it.
American astronaut Mark Vande Hei—who got his Masters in applied physics from Stanford in 1999—will end his record-setting 355 days in space in three weeks, unless a top ally of Vladimir Putin’s makes good on threats to abandon the intrepid explorer 227 miles above the earth in the International Space Station.
Dmitry Olegovich Rogozin, Director General of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, got miffed last month when President Joe Biden said on the eve of the invasion that U.S. sanctions against Russia would “degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program.”
NASA’s followup statement promising that “no changes are planned” to the U.S.-Russian space venture, and that the agency will continue to support “ongoing in orbit and ground station operations,” did not sooth Rogozin, a politician with close ties to Putin.
The U.S. has relied on Russian ships for all its trips to the ISS since President Barak Obama scuttled the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
The U.S. and Russia have been working together on the SSI for 24 years. Although the Space Station is divided into the Russian Orbital Segment, operated by Russia, and the United States Orbital Segment, run by the U.S., cosmonauts and astronauts have always worked together in the spirit of peace and science.
Now, Rogozin says he’d not only like to leave Vande Hei in the endless expanse of time and space, he said he’d detach the whole Russian Segment from the SSI, too.
Though few people take seriously what might be the first-ever recorded threat to leave a human in space like the confused HAL 9000 did in 2001: A Space Odyssey, some American astronauts won’t stand for such tough-talk from an obese, earthbound oligarch like Rogozin while their pals slip the surly bonds.
Retired U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly—who currently holds the record for longest space flight by an American at 340 days—invaded Rogozin’s Twitter with such fury after the Kremlin-adjacent pencil-pusher attempted to menace Kelly’s fellow rocket man that Rogozin replied in one deleted post, “Get off, you moron! Otherwise, the death of the #ISS will be on your conscience.”
Kelly, writing in Russian, also called Rogozin “Dimon,” an insulting version of Dmitry, and used the informal form of “you,” further needling the apparatchik.
“Mr Scott Kelly! You needlessly provoke me,” Rogozin replied in English, possibly while stroking a cat. “I will not allow you to behave like that with me. You are being defiant and destructive.”
Mr Scott Kelly! You needlessly provoke me. We are not familiar with you, but you address me on you ("ты") and call me "Dimon", although I do not know such a treatment and I will not allow you to behave like that with me. You are being defiant and destructive. https://t.co/qBb0972W7M
— РОГОЗИН (@Rogozin) March 7, 2022
Speaking to ABC News, Kelly explained, “I was just enraged that he, the [cosmonauts], said that they were going to leave an American crew member behind. I never thought I would ever hear anything so outrageous.”
Want the Daily Brief in your inbox? Sign up for our newsletters today.