Russian, US ISS record-holders return to earth
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A record-breaking US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts reached Earth Wednesday, with tensions between Moscow and the West soaring over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Russia's space agency Roscosmos said.
"The crew of Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, as well as NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, has returned to Earth," Roscosmos said after footage showed the Soyuz descent module touching down at the expected time of 1128 GMT.
NASA's Mark Vande Hei is returning after setting a new record for the single longest spaceflight by a NASA astronaut, clocking 355 days aboard the International Space Station.
Anton Shkaplerov, who is rounding off a standard six-month mission, is the third member of the returning crew.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been in tatters since the Kremlin launched an invasion of Ukraine last month, killing thousands and forcing four million people to flee the country.
Space was one of the few areas of cooperation between Russia and the West untouched by the fallout of Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, but here, too, tensions are growing.
The ISS, a collaboration between the US, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, is expected to be wound up in the next decade.
Last month, Roscosmos chief Dmitri Rogozin, an avid supporter of what Moscow has called a "special military operation" in Ukraine, suggested that Western sanctions targeting Russia in response had put the orbital lab in jeopardy.
"If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from uncontrolled deorbiting and falling on US or European territory?" Rogozin wrote in a tweet last month -- noting that the station does not fly over much of Russia.
Rogozin has also traded barbs on Twitter with the now-retired astronaut Scott Kelly, who has been sharply critical of the invasion.