Tensions between the United States and Russia are heightened, but that shouldn't affect operations on the International Space Station, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Tuesday.
NASA's Mike Hopkins, Russia's Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy are scheduled to fly back to Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Monday. NASA officials are confident that the landing will not be affected by the current political climate, even though U.S.-Russian relations have been strained in recent days due to the situation in the Ukraine.
Crews on the space station have weathered political situations like this one before, Bolden said.
"I think people lose track of the fact that we have occupied the International Space Station now for 13 consecutive years uninterrupted, and that has been through multiple international crises," Bolden said during a news conference. [See photos of the station's current crew]
Shortly after Hopkins, Kotov and Ryazanskiy land in Kazakhstan, three more crew members will launch to the station atop a Soyuz rocket. NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev will depart Earth for their stints on the orbiting outpost on March 25.
Currently, Russia's Soyuz spacecraft are the only vehicles that ferry NASA astronauts to space and back. NASA officials hope to change that in the future by using private spacecraft under development in the United States.
Bolden said "everything is normal" in NASA's relationship with the Russians.
"We are continuing to monitor the situation," he said. "Our crews continue to train in Star City [Russia]."