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NASA’s record-breaking astronaut arrives home safely

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio shortly after returning to Earth in September 2023.
NASA astronaut Frank Rubio shortly after returning to Earth after becoming the first American astronaut to spend a full year in orbit. NASA

Frank Rubio has arrived home safely after spending 371 days in space — a record for a NASA astronaut.

Rubio departed the International Space Station (ISS) with Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin at 3:54 a.m. ET on Wednesday before landing in Kazakhstan at 7:17 a.m. ET (5:17 p.m. local time). NASA shared footage of the moment the Soyuz capsule containing the three crewmembers touched down:

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 American astronaut’s mission was originally scheduled to last the usual six months, but a coolant leak on the trio’s docked Soyuz spacecraft put it out of action. A replacement capsule was sent to the ISS, but the homecoming was rescheduled, leaving Rubio and his two crewmates in orbit for an extra six months.

Rubio’s extended mission nabbed the record for the longest stay from NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who completed a 355-day mission aboard the ISS last year. The record stay by any human is held by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who lived aboard the Mir space station for 437 days and 18 hours in the mid-1990s.

“Frank’s record-breaking time in space is not just a milestone, it’s a major contribution to our understanding of long-duration space missions,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said in comments that suggested Rubio will be undergoing thorough analysis to see how his body and mind coped with the rigors of space travel over such a long period. The results will help to refine plans for lengthy crewed missions on the moon and also for the first human voyages to more distant places like Mars.

Nelson continued: “Our astronauts make extraordinary sacrifices away from their homes and loved ones to further discovery. NASA is immensely grateful for Frank’s dedicated service to our nation and the invaluable scientific contributions he made on the International Space Station. He embodies the true pioneer spirit that will pave the way for future exploration to the moon, Mars, and beyond.”

According to NASA, Rubio completed around 5,900 orbits of Earth in a journey of more than 157 million miles, “roughly the equivalent of 328 trips to the moon and back.”

He also oversaw the arrival of 15 spacecraft and the departure of 14 spacecraft during his 12 months aboard the orbital outpost. Most of Rubio’s time was spent working on scientific activities, though he participated in two spacewalks, as well.

All in all, this was a remarkable mission for Rubio — and to think that this was his very first trip to space.

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