NASA’s record-breaking astronaut arrives home safely

NASA’s record-breaking astronaut arrives home safely

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio shortly after returning to Earth in September 2023.
NASA astronaut Frank Rubio shortly after returning to Earth after becoming the first American astronaut to spend a full year in orbit. NASA

Frank Rubio returned home safely after spending 371 days in space – a record for a NASA astronaut.

Rubio departed the International Space Station (ISS) with Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin on Wednesday at 3:54 a.m. ET before landing in Kazakhstan at 7:17 a.m. ET (5:17 p.m. local time). NASA shared footage of the moment the Soyuz capsule containing the three crew members landed:

The American astronaut’s mission was initially scheduled to last the usual six months, but a coolant leak on the trio’s docked Soyuz spacecraft knocked it out of commission. A replacement capsule was sent to the ISS, but the return was postponed, leaving Rubio and his two teammates in orbit for another six months.

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Rubio’s extended mission clinched the record for longest stay from NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who completed a 355-day mission aboard the ISS last year. The human stay record is held by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who lived aboard the Mir space station for 437 days and 18 hours in the mid-1990s.

“Frank’s record time in space is not only a milestone, it is a major contribution to our understanding of long-duration space missions,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said in comments suggesting that Rubio would undergo extensive analysis to see how his body and mind coped with the rigors of space travel over such a long period of time. The results will help refine plans for long crewed missions to the Moon as well as the first human trips to more distant places like Mars.

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Nelson continued: “Our astronauts make extraordinary sacrifices far from home and loved ones to pursue discovery. NASA is immensely grateful for Frank’s dedicated service to our nation and for the invaluable scientific contributions he made to the International Space Station. He embodies the true pioneering spirit that will pave the way for future explorations to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

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According to NASA, Rubio completed approximately 5,900 orbits around Earth during a journey of more than 157 million miles, “roughly the equivalent of 328 round trips to the Moon.”

He also oversaw the arrival of 15 spacecraft and the departure of 14 spacecraft during his 12 months aboard the orbital outpost. Most of Rubio’s time was spent on scientific activities, although he also participated in two spacewalks.

Overall, it was a remarkable mission for Rubio – and to think it was his very first trip to space.

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