(UnitedVoice.com) – On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a joint session of Congress the United States intended to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. It was considered a virtually impossible goal that NASA met in July 1969. Throughout the 1960s, NASA received 4.3% of the federal budget. Today, it’s around 0.5%. It’s safe to say America isn’t as excited by space exploration as it once was many decades ago.
Still, that doesn’t mean the US is entirely ignoring space. The US still co-jointly operates the International Space Station (ISS) with Russia as it has for decades. Suffice it to say, the Russian invasion and ongoing war against Ukraine have strained US/Russian relations. Despite Russian threats, on Wednesday, March 30, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and two cosmonauts, Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, touched down in Kazakhstan. Vande Hei’s time onboard set a NASA record for one person’s time in space.
American Astronaut Sets Record
Vande Hei spent 355 consecutive days in space, breaking a NASA record. The astronaut broke Scott Kelly’s 340-day record set in 2016. Kelly is now a Democratic Senator from Arizona. Vande Hei is a seasoned astronaut who’s spent a combined total of 523 days in space. Yet, that falls short of the total days in space record, which belongs to astronaut Peggy Whitson at 665 days. Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov holds the world record for the longest consecutive time spent in space at 437.7 days.
After touching down in Kazakhstan, NASA scheduled Vande Hei to return to Houston, Texas. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said America’s space agency and the country are proud to welcome the astronaut home from the ISS. During his time in space, Vande Hei traveled approximately 5,680 orbits around the Earth.
Return to Earth Was Questionable
As Russia isolated itself from the international community over its war against Ukraine, questions abounded about the return of the US astronaut from the ISS. Dmitry Rogozin, director-general of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, threatened numerous times to leave Vande Hei stranded on the ISS when Russian cosmonauts returned to Earth. The Russian space leader said Russia could either shut down its side of the space station or detach the primary engines, which would change the space station’s orbit and risk it falling back to Earth with the US astronaut still aboard.
Fortunately, it all worked out for both sides. Russia sent three cosmonauts to the space station in early March, and it plans two more launches next year. NASA is beginning the early stages of transitioning to private company space launches. In April, SpaceX will send two crews to the ISS.
If Russia would pull a horrifying stunt in the future, is NASA or SpaceX prepared to meet the challenge?
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