NASA astronauts wrap up mission, return to earth amid US-Russia tensions

New Delhi: Amidst tensions between Washington and Moscow, two American astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut returned to Earth on Thursday after concluding a six-month mission at the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold and Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos touched down on steppe land southeast of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan at the expected time of 1145 GMT.

‘Mysterious’ hole in Russian spacecraft

The landing came with Russian and US officials investigating the appearance of a mysterious hole in a Russian spacecraft docked at the orbiting station. Detected in August, the hole caused an air leak on the ISS but was quickly sealed up.

This week the outspoken chief of the Russian space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, said investigators believed the small hole had been made deliberately and was not a manufacturing defect.

Interference from American officials

The official, who was placed under US sanctions over the Ukraine crisis in 2014, also bemoaned “problems” in the Russian space agency’s cooperation with NASA that he attributed to interference from unnamed American officials.

Last month the Russian daily Kommersant reported that an investigation had probed the possibility that US astronauts deliberately drilled the hole in order to get a sick colleague sent back home – something Russian officials later denied.

(With inputs from AFP)