A Russian cosmonaut has set a world record for the most time spent in space on Sunday, after logging more than 878 days or nearly two-and-a-half years.
As of 0830 GMT, Oleg Kononenko overtook the record set by his compatriot Gennady Padalka, according to Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos. Padalka logged 878 days, 11 hours, 29 minutes and 48 seconds during five space flights before retiring in 2017.
Kononenko, 59, broke the record while orbiting 263 miles (423km) from Earth during his fifth space flight. “I fly into space to do my favourite thing, not to set records,” he told the state news agency Tass in an interview from the international space station (ISS).
“I am proud of all my achievements, but I am most proud that the record for the total duration of human stay in space is still held by a Russian cosmonaut,” Kononenko, who is the commander of Roscosmos, said.
His current space flight is scheduled to end in late September, by which time he will have logged 1,110 days in space.
He started his space career as an engineer, according to the European Space Agency, and began training as a cosmonaut at the age of 34 after joining the group selected for the ISS programme. His first space flight took place soon after, in April 2008, and lasted 200 days.
Kononenko told Tass that video calls and messaging allowed him to keep in touch, but that it was on coming back to Earth that he realised how much of life he had missed out on.
“It is only upon returning home that the realisation comes that for hundreds of days in my absence the children have been growing up without father,” he said. “No one will return this time to me.”
He also said he worked out regularly in an effort to counter the physical effects of “insidious” weightlessness. “I do not feel deprived or isolated,” he said.
His five space flights have spanned 16 years, during which time advances in technology had made preparing for each flight more difficult, he said. “The profession of a cosmonaut is becoming more complicated. The systems and experiments are becoming more complicated. I repeat, the preparation has not become easier.”
The ISS is one of the few international projects in which Washington and Moscow continue to cooperate closely since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Roscosmos said in December that a cross-flight programme with Nasa had been extended until 2025.
The reliability of Russia’s space programme, historically the pride of the country, has come into question in recent years. The Russian segment of the ISS sprung its third coolant leak in less than a year in October, hinting at what analysts have described as a beleaguered space sector that is struggling to turn itself around after years of funding shortages, failures and corruption scandals.
Reuters contributed to this report