SWR Wissens was able to speak in detail with Matthias Maurer about what happened on the ISS when Russia invaded Ukraine.






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The satellite launch before the war

November 2021. Three months before the start of the war in Ukraine: The crew on board the ISS are sent to the docked spacecraft for safety. Flying debris endangers the space station. They are said to have come from an accidentally broken Russian satellite. This is how Matthias Maurer from ground control in Houston found out. But this explanation later turns out to be wrong.

Houston does not inform the ISS that the debris that is threatening the ISS was created when Russia’s military demonstratively shot down one of its own satellites. Either because it doesn’t seem important to ground control or because they deliberately don’t want to give this information to the living community in space.

According to Maurer, a satellite can break apart if there are still fuel residues in the tanks of older satellites. Fortunately, that no longer happens with modern satellites, he adds. The fact that this satellite broke into thousands of pieces after being shot at by the Russian military – Maurer only found out the truth when he read the BBC news on the Internet.

“It was initially credible for us that a satellite broke apart. It was only two or three days later that we found out from the news that the satellite had been shot down.”

The astronaut Matthias Maurer was on board the ISS at the beginning of the Ukraine war together with two Russian cosmonauts.  (Photo: IMAGO, IMAGO/ZUMA Wire/NASA)

The astronaut Matthias Maurer was on board the ISS at the beginning of the Ukraine war together with two Russian cosmonauts.






IMAGO/ZUMA Wire/NASA


“By far the saddest day up in space”

The war then begins on February 24, 2022, and Russian troops invade Ukraine. For Matthias Maurer, this is a deep cut, his mood was at a low point, he says:

“It was a very horrible idea that a war had broken out down there in the middle of Europe. We’re up there in space. We live in such an ideal world, in such an ideal world.”

The war in Ukraine could also be seen from space. First of all when flying over the ISS at night. Europe was also brightly lit on the night of February 24, and then the ISS suddenly flew over a dark spot in the middle of Europe, reports Maurer, “that was so noticeable, it hit us so deeply to see it”.

Astronaut Matthias Maurer returns to Earth from the ISS.  (Photo: dpa Bildfunk, picture alliance/dpa/ESA/NASA)

From the dome-shaped observation tower of the ISS, the Cupola, the crew can look around 400 km down to the earth’s surface.






picture alliance/dpa/ESA/NASA


How to talk about it?

For more than 22 years, West and East had built trust by working together on the ISS. But now Maurer is considering whether and how he can speak to his Russian colleagues about the outbreak of war. He succeeds with Anton Schkaplerow. The family of the Russian astronaut lives in the Crimea. “It was very easy for me to start by asking: How is your family? Is it affected or is it in danger?” said Maurer, from the conversation it becomes clear: his cosmonaut colleague is completely against the war.

However, Maurer notes that Shkaplerov believes the Russian propaganda that terrorists must be fought in Ukraine. Only days later did the Russian and his compatriot Dubrov understand that this was a Russian war of aggression. Both distance themselves from it.

Two Russian cosmonauts were also on board the ISS.  Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov returns after 176 days in space on March 30, 2022.  (Photo: IMAGO, imago/Copyright: Bill Ingalls/Nasa)

Two Russian cosmonauts were also on board the ISS. Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov returns after 176 days in space on March 30, 2022.






imago/Copyright: Bill Ingalls/Nasa


No message of peace from the ISS

In the American part of the space station, where Maurer is also housed, the discussion began after the outbreak of war as to whether a message of peace should not be formulated from the ISS. Maurer discusses this with his American colleague Mark Van der Hei: “Mark said, ‘But I want to say something, I have to clarify that below.'” Ground control in Houston intervened:

“We were told: Boys! Everything you say up here is well intentioned, but it will be used against you. Since sequences are cut out. Your words will be put in a different context and the whole thing will pour fuel on the fire again.”

Russian crew must cover Ukraine colors

When a new Russian crew arrived on the ISS a few weeks after the war began, the cosmonauts arrived wearing yellow overalls with blue patches. A large part of the Western press assumes that this is a sign of solidarity with Ukraine. This quickly turns out to be wrong, but from now on the Russian cosmonauts float through the ISS in thick jackets.

Matthias Maurer is surprised and talks to his colleague about the unnecessarily thick jacket. The Russian colleague replies that they only have yellow sweaters, but are no longer allowed to wear them. This is an instruction from ground control in Moscow. “And then – of course – I gave him my blue jumper so that he didn’t have to keep flying around the station with his jacket on,” says Maurer.

In an interview with SWR, astronaut Matthias Maurer reports on how he experienced the outbreak of the Ukraine war on board the ISS.  (Photo: SWR, SWR Knowledge)

In an interview with SWR, astronaut Matthias Maurer reports on how he experienced the outbreak of the Ukraine war on board the ISS.


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SWR knowledge


music for unity

The sanctions are also causing problems for the Russians on board the ISS: the cosmonauts can no longer subscribe to Western Internet music streams with their Russian credit cards. Maurer quickly ignored the terms of use and simply let the Russians order their favorite music through his account. Because he knows: Music is important for well-being on the ISS and well-being for cohesion on the space station, which orbits over the war zones of the world as a peace project.

Source: swr

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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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