Tim Peake feared being stranded in space if Russian relations broke down

British astronaut Tim Peake feared being left stranded in space aboard the International Space Station if Russian relations broke down, said former Royal Green Jackets soldier, Tobias Ellwood, an American-born British MP who is currently a Government Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Mr. Ellwood told MPs that Russian President Vladimir Putin assured him that Major Peake, who is currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS), would not be abandoned there – the Russians would make sure he got back to Earth regardless of the status of Anglo-Russian relations.

Major Peake lifted off from Earth on board a Soyuz TMA-19M Russian rocked from Baikonur Cosmodrome, located in the desert steppe of Kazakhstan, which is leased by the Kazakh Government to Russia and is managed by the Roscosmos State Corporation and the Russian Aerospace Forces.

Tim Peake worried about being strandedTim Peake told Tobias Ellwood that he was worried about being left stranded in space if Anglo-Russian relations deteriorated. Russian President Vladimir Putin assured Mr. Ellwood that his country would never abandon the British astronaut, regardless of how bad things got. (Images: Tobias Ellwood – Wikipedia, Tim Peake – European Space Agency, and Vladimir Putin – Kremlin)

Astronauts worldwide rely on Russia for transport

The only way for astronauts to currently get back to Earth after his missions on the ISS is with a Russian spacecraft. The American Space Shuttle stopped transporting astronauts in 2011.

Mr. Ellwood, a Tory frontbencher, MP for Bournemouth East, who claims to be a friend of Major Peake, raised the issue with President Putin last year during the 2015 First European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan.

During a Westminster Hall debate on Anglo-Russian relations, Mr. Elwood said:

“I had the opportunity to meet President Putin at the Baku Azerbaijan Games last year and wasn’t quite expecting to see him, I have to say.”

“But I did say to him that a friend of mine had cause to use Russian transport and was a bit concerned about international developments – the East and West – and he might get stuck at the end of his destination and not be able to get back.”

Tim Peake before spacewalkMajor Tim Peake preparing for his first space walk aboard the ISS. He and other ISS crew members are completely dependent on Russia to get them back to Earth. (Image: nasa.gov)

“That friend of mine was called Tim Peake, he was using a Soyuz space capsule to get himself up to the International Space Station and didn’t want to be abandoned up there.”

“Mr Putin grabbed my arm and said, ‘Mr Ellwood, tell Mr Peake we will not abandon him’. And that gives you an indication to say that it is possible to isolate some of these enormous concerns that we have, the sanctions that take place, that allow us to work on the international stage to tackle some of these areas, but also culturally and professionally and indeed from an industrial perspective, commercial perspective, to be able to continue these relationships.”

Boeing and SpaceX to transport astronauts in 2017

NASA says it expects to rely on two US providers to get its astronauts to and back from the ISS as from the end of 2017. SpaceX, the US aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California, will be transporting the spacemen and women from US soil.

SpaceX launch siteLaunch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, undergoing modifications by SpaceX to adapt it to the needs of the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Next year the company should be transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station. (Image: nasa.gov)

The Boeing Company of Houston will also be transporting ISS crew, lifting off from US soil too, NASA says.

In November last year, Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a press statement:

“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions. It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”

NASA says it will soon announce which of the two companies – Boeing or SpaceX – will fly its first astronaut mission. Most bets are on SpaceX, which earlier this year managed to land part of a rocket that had taken off, thus bringing down the cost of the missions considerably.

Soyuz rocket taking Major Peake to ISSThe Soyuz TMA-19M mission lifting off to the ISS on 15 December 2015, transporting Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, US astronaut Tim Kopra, and European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake. (Image: Wikipedia)

Regarding not having to rely on foreign suppliers for taking its astronauts into space, NASA said:

“Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory.”

“Commercial crew launches will reduce the cost, per seat, of transporting NASA astronauts to the space station compared to what the agency must pay the Russian Federal Space Agency for the same service.”

“If, however, NASA does not receive the full requested funding for CCtCap contracts in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, the agency will be forced to delay future milestones for both U.S. companies and continue its sole reliance on Russia to transport American astronauts to the space station.”

Video – Major Peake’s rocket launch December 2015

This BBC video remembers the day on 15th December last year when British astronaut Major Tim Peake lifted off on board the Soyuz TMA-19M rocket on his historic voyage to the International Space Station. We are relying on the Russians to bring him safely back to Earth.