Musk ferries NASA astronauts back to Earth after Russia threatens ISS safety

The four passengers splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico after hitching a ride on Mr Musk’s SpaceX Endurance spacecraft. NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and Raja Chari and Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency had spent six months on board the ISS. Their departure comes after Russia threatened the safety of the floating space station.

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos threatened to crash the 400-tonne floating research lab into the Earth.

Furious at the sanctions placed by Western countries as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Space Agency chief implied that Russia could let the station crash into the Earth.

The first two components of the ISS come from the Russian modules “Zarya” and “Zvezda”, which use their engines to raise the orbit of the ISS from time to time when the upper layers of the atmosphere begin slowing down the station.

If Vladimir Putin decided to decouple these two modules, some experts have warned that the ISS would only survive for a short period of time before it enters Earth’s atmosphere.

And Rogozin stoked these fears.

Describing the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine as “illegal”, he said that the restrictions could disrupt the operations of Russian vessels servicing the ISS.

In a Twitter rant, he said: “Do you want to destroy our cooperation on the ISS?

“This is how you already do it by limiting exchanges between our cosmonaut and astronaut training centres.

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Three more Americans and an Italian astronaut replaced the departing spacefarers in another SpaceX launch last week.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in late April that he expects Russia to continue participating in the ISS regardless of the sanctions beyond 2024.

The international operating agreement covering the ISS – which Russia has signed – lasts until 2024 and NASA plans to continue operating the station until 2031.