NASA astronauts, Russian cosmonauts return to Earth after year-long space mission


A NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts returned to Earth on Wednesday after being stranded in space for more than a year. American Frank Rubio set the record for the longest American space flight – which was the result of a long stay.

International Space Station (ISS) crew member and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio rest after landing in the Soyuz MS-23 space capsule in a remote area near Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday.  (via Reuters)
International Space Station (ISS) crew member and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio rest after landing in the Soyuz MS-23 space capsule in a remote area near Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday. (via Reuters)

The trio landed in a remote area of ​​Kazakhstan, landing in a Soyuz capsule that had been transported as a replacement after their original ride was hit by space junk and lost all its coolant while docked at the International Space Station.

What was supposed to be a 180-day mission turned into a 371-day stay. Rubio spent more than two weeks in space than Mark Vande Hei, who held NASA’s previous endurance record for a solo space flight.

Russia holds the world record of 437 days, set in the mid-1990s.

The Soyuz capsule that brought back Rubio and cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin was a replacement launched in February. Russian engineers suspect that a piece of space junk entered the radiator of their original capsule late last year, during what was supposed to be a six-month mission. Engineers were concerned that without cooling, the capsule’s electronics and occupants could heat up to dangerous levels, so the spacecraft returned empty.

There were no other Soyuz launches with a new crew until this month. His replacement finally arrived about two weeks early.

“No one deserves to be home to their families more than you,” the space station’s new commander, Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen, said earlier this week.

Rubio, 47, an Army doctor and helicopter pilot, said at a news conference last week that he never would have agreed to a full year in space if he had been asked initially. He missed important family milestones, including the eldest of his four children completing his first year at the U.S. Naval Academy and the second leaving for West Point.

Rubio said the psychological aspect of spending so much time in space was more difficult than he expected.

“Hugging my wife and kids will be paramount and that’s probably what I’ll be focusing on for the first few days,” he said.

Rubio can retain this record for some time. NASA has no plans for a year-long mission as of now.

It was the first space flight for Rubio and Petelin, a 40-year-old engineer. Prokopyev, 48, an engineer and pilot, has now pulled off two long station tenures.

Since launching from Kazakhstan last September they have covered 157 million miles (253 million kilometers) and circled the globe nearly 6,000 times.

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