NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and two Russian colleagues landed in Kazakhstan this morning after 371 days in space, a new record for a U.S. astronaut. The duration was a surprise. They were supposed to come home after six months, but the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft that took them to the International Space Station a year ago lost all its coolant and was deemed unsafe to bring them back. A replacement spacecraft, Soyuz MS-23, was sent up for today’s return, causing a change in the crew rotation schedule and a one-year mission for the trio.
Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin said goodbye to the seven astronauts and cosmonauts who are just beginning their tours of duty and closed the hatches between the ISS and Soyuz just after midnight EDT. They undocked from the Prichal module at 3:54:30 am EDT and landed about 90 miles southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan at 7:17 am EDT (5:17 pm local time).
Welcome home, Frank!
The single longest spaceflight for any of our @NASA_Astronauts comes to a close. Frank Rubio is back on Earth after 371 days. His extended mission to the @Space_Station will help us shape the future of deep space exploration. pic.twitter.com/nR88RA6vqC
— NASA (@NASA) September 27, 2023
The three will be taken by helicopters to the city of Karaganda about two hours away where Rubio will board a NASA plane to Houston and Prokopyev and Petelin fly back to their home base at Star City outside Moscow.
Rubio broke Mark Vande Hei’s 355-day U.S. continuous spaceflight record last week and how holds the new record of 371 days. Two Russians spent longer continuous durations on Russia’s Mir space station — Sergei Avdeyev (380 days in 1998-1999) and Valeriy Polyakhov (428 days in 1994-1995) — so Propokyev and Petelin don’t go into the record books individually, but this is the first time three people spent that long in space as a crew. The closest is Russia’s Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov who spent 365 days together on Mir in 1987-1988.
Other crews come and go during these long duration missions. Rubio said he had 28 crewmates during his year on ISS.
Extending the length of spaceflight is important for understanding how humans adapt to weightlessness and other effects of the space environment in preparation for eventual trips to Mars. In 2015-2016 NASA and Roscosmos teamed up for a much-publicized “Year-In-Space” mission by Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko. They actually were in space for only 340 days, not 365, however. Kelly’s record was broken by Vande Hei. Another NASA astronaut, Christina Koch, came close with 328 days.
They all knew they would or might stay beyond the typical 6-month mission, but Rubio did not. Last week Rubio spoke openly about the challenges of unexpectedly remaining for an extra shift , especially for someone with four relatively young children. He said he’s eager to hug his wife and kids and enjoy the peace of quiet of his back yard instead of the incessant hum of fans and other machinery on the ISS. He’ll soon be there.
The ISS is now back to usual the crew complement of seven. The Expedition 70 crew is composed of three Russians, two Americans, a Dane, and a Japanese. NASA’s Crew-7 spacecraft delivered Jasmin Moghbeli (NASA), Andreas Mogensen (ESA/Denmark), Satoshi Furukawa (JAXA) and Konstantin Borisov (Roscosmos) at the end of August. Oleg Kononenko (Roscosmos), Nikolai Chub (Roscosmos) and Loral O’Hara (NASA) arrived on Soyuz MS-24 on September 17.
The ISS has been permanently occupied by international crews rotating on roughly 4-6 month schedules since November 2, 2000, almost 23 years.
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