June 12, 2024
Three astronauts return to Earth after a year in space. NASA's Frank Rubio sets US space record
In this photo taken from video released by Roscosmos space corporation, a Russian Soyuz MS-23 space capsule descends about 150 km (90 miles) south-east of the Kazakh town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. The Soyuz capsule carrying NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev, and Dmitri Petelin, touched down on Wednesday on the steppes of Kazakhstan. Credit: Roscosmos space corporation via AP

A NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts returned to Earth on Wednesday after being stuck in space for just over a year. American Frank Rubio set a record for the longest U.S. spaceflight—a result of the extended stay.

The trio landed in a remote area of Kazakhstan, descending in a Soyuz capsule that was rushed up as a replacement after their original ride was hit by and lost all its coolant while docked to the International Space Station.

What should have been a 180-day mission turned into a 371-day stay. Rubio spent more than two weeks longer in than Mark Vande Hei, who held NASA’s previous endurance record for a single spaceflight.

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

The Soyuz capsule that brought Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin back was a replacement launched in February. Russian engineers suspect a piece of space junk pierced the radiator of their original capsule late last year, midway through what should have been a six-month mission. Engineers worried that without cooling, the capsule’s electronics and any occupants could overheat to dangerous levels, so the craft returned empty.

There wasn’t another Soyuz to launch a fresh crew until this month. Their replacements finally arrived nearly two weeks ago.

Three astronauts return to Earth after a year in space. NASA's Frank Rubio sets US space record
From left, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, crew members of the mission to the International Space Station (ISS), walk to the rocket prior the launch of Soyuz-2.1 rocket, at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. The three are expected to return to Earth on Wednesday, Sept; 27, 2023, after being stuck in space for just over a year after their original capsule was hit by space junk. The 180-day mission turned into a 371-day stay. Credit: AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, Pool, File

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

Prokopyev told ground controllers throughout the descent that all three were feeling good. They experienced more than four times the as their capsule streaked through the atmosphere and came to a touchdown in the barren Kazakh steppes, ending up on its side. Helicopters moved in with recovery crews to fetch the astronauts.

“It’s good to be home,” Rubio said after being pulled from the .

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 asked at the outset. He ended up missing important family milestones including the oldest of his four children finishing her first year at the U.S. Naval Academy and another heading off to West Point.

Three astronauts return to Earth after a year in space. NASA's Frank Rubio sets US space record
In this photo provided by NASA, astronaut Frank Rubio peers out of a window aboard the SpaceX Dragon Freedom spacecraft docked to the International Space Station. Rubio was observing the SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft, carrying four SpaceX Crew-5 crew members, approach the orbital lab for a docking to the Harmony module’s forward port. Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin are expected to return to Earth on Wednesday, Sept; 27, 2023, after being stuck in space for just over a year after their original capsule was hit by space junk. The 180-day mission turned into a 371-day stay. Credit: NASA via AP

Rubio had said the psychological aspect of spending so long in space was tougher than he expected. He may hold on to this record for a while. NASA has no plans as of now for more yearlong missions.

It was the first spaceflight for Rubio and Petelin, 40, an engineer. Prokopyev, 48, an engineer and pilot, has now pulled two long station stints.

They logged 157 million miles (253 million kilometers) since launching from Kazakhstan last September and circled the world nearly 6,000 times.

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Three astronauts return to Earth after a year in space. NASA’s Frank Rubio sets US space record (2023, September 27)
retrieved 27 September 2023
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