A NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts completed their journey back to Earth on Wednesday after spending just over a year in space. American Frank Rubio achieved a record for the longest US spaceflight due to the extended stay.
The astronaut and cosmonauts landed on earth in the remote region of Kazakhstan., descending in a Soyuz capsule that had to launch quickly as a replacement after space debris struck their original spacecraft and it lost all its coolant while docked to the International Space Station.
What started as an initially intended 180-day mission turned into a 371-day stay. Rubio’s time in space exceeded that of Mark Vande Hei, the previous NASA record holder for a single spaceflight, by more than two weeks.
Russia still holds the world record of 437 days, established in the mid-1990s. The Soyuz capsule that carried Rubio, cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, and cosmonaut Dmitri Petelin back to Earth was a replacement launched in February. Russian engineers hold the belief that a piece of space debris punctured the radiator of their original capsule late last year, midway through what was supposed to be a six-month mission. Engineers were concerned that without cooling, the capsule’s electronics and any occupants could overheat to dangerous levels, so the spacecraft returned empty.
Another Soyuz spacecraft wasn’t available to launch a new crew until this month. Their replacements finally arrived nearly two weeks ago.
“The space station’s new commander, Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen, stated earlier this week, ‘No one deserves to go home to their families more than you.'”
Throughout the descent, Prokopyev informed ground controllers that all three astronauts were feeling well. They experienced over four times the force of gravity as their capsule streaked through the atmosphere and touched down in the desolate Kazakh steppes, ending up on its side. Helicopters moved in with recovery teams to retrieve the astronauts.
After extraction from the capsule, Rubio, a 47-year-old army doctor and helicopter pilot, expressed, “I’m glad to be back home.” Rubio admitted at a press conference last week that he would not have agreed to a full year in space if asked at the outset. He missed significant family milestones, including his eldest of four children completing her first year at the US Naval Academy and another child heading off to the West Point military academy.
He noted that the psychological aspect of spending such an extended period in space was more challenging than he had anticipated. As of now, NASA has no plans for additional year-long missions. This marked the first spaceflight for Rubio and Petelin, 40, an engineer. Prokopyev, 48, an engineer and pilot, has now completed two lengthy station assignments.
They covered a distance of 157 million miles (253 million km) since their launch from Kazakhstan last September and orbited the Earth nearly 6,000 times.