NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei this week set a new record for the longest spaceflight by an American.
Having arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on April 9, 2021, Vande Hei on Tuesday surpassed the existing 340-day NASA record set by Scott Kelly in 2016.
When Vande Hei returns to Earth at the end of this month, his record will stand at 355 days.
The American astronaut arrived at the ISS with Russian cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov and so the pair will share the record for the longest stay aboard the space station when they fly home together at the end of this month.
At the start of their mission, Vande Hei and Dubrov were expecting a standard six-month mission, but changes in crew rotation schedules last fall resulted in their stay being extended.
Current NASA chief Bill Nelson congratulated Vande Hei on his new spaceflight record, tweeting: “Today [Mark Vande Hei] makes history, surpassing [Scott Kelly’s] record of the single longest spaceflight by a NASA astronaut! Mark’s stay will help us understand the effects of longer-duration missions in space. Mark, thanks for your service & congrats!”
In a video (below) posted on Tuesday, the American astronaut, who’s on his second space mission, said that when he returns to Earth he plans to “get outside as much as possible,” adding, “I’ve had an indoor job 24/7 for almost a year so I’m looking forward to being outside no matter what kind of weather.”
As for his most memorable experiences aboard the ISS, Vande Hei said the beautiful auroras are unforgettable (you can see some of them in the video).
Aboard the International Space Station, NASA Exp 66 Flight Engineer @Astro_Sabot answered social media questions on Mar. 10 and reflected on his record-breaking spaceflight. pic.twitter.com/nTBIKMAUkr
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) March 16, 2022
Besides working on a bunch of experiments during his extended stay, Vande Hei also found time to head to the station’s Cupola module to capture stunning photos of Earth as the ISS orbited at an altitude of about 250 miles.
Having stayed longer in space than most astronauts (though not as long as the record-setting Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who stayed aboard the Mir space station for 437 days 18 hours in the mid-90s), researchers will be keen to find out how well Vande Hei’s body adapted to spending an extended period in microgravity conditions, with the findings helping NASA to better design the upcoming crewed missions to the moon and Mars.
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