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U.S. astronaut returns home after record-breaking mission

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei returned home safely on Wednesday after the longest single space mission by an American astronaut.

Vande Hei’s stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) lasted 355 days, beating the previous record set by Scott Kelly in 2016 by 15 days.

The 55-year-old American traveled home aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft alongside cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov, whose mission also lasted 355 days, and Anton Shkaplerov.

Around four hours after undocking from the ISS, the trio landed in a remote area southeast of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan at 7:28 a.m. ET (5:28 p.m. local time) on Wednesday, March 31.

.@Astro_Sabot and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov landed back on Earth inside the Soyuz MS-19 crew ship today at 7:28am ET. More… https://t.co/i9QtpYxWGE pic.twitter.com/EazuiF9Ejr

— International Space Station (@Space_Station) March 30, 2022

Vande Hei looked well as a team transferred him from the Soyuz capsule to a waiting helicopter for the first leg of his journey back to the U.S.

Welcome home, @Astro_Sabot!

Setting the record for longest single NASA spaceflight, Mark Vande Hei spent 355 days off the planet. He contributed to hundreds of science experiments that benefit life on Earth and will help shape future deep space missions: https://t.co/pDrxnJsCoU pic.twitter.com/c29QGWS1QJ

— NASA (@NASA) March 30, 2022

Later in the day, the record-breaking astronaut sent a message to his followers on social media, saying: “Fantastic place, occupied by amazing people, working for all of humanity. I’ll forever cherish the memories of serving on the International Space Station. Now, though, I’m thrilled to be back on Mother Earth!”

Fantastic place, occupied by amazing people, working for all of humanity. I’ll forever cherish the memories of serving on the International Space Station. Now, though, I’m thrilled to be back on Mother Earth! pic.twitter.com/pv0V2DqkXZ

— Mark T. Vande Hei (@Astro_Sabot) March 30, 2022

Asked recently what he wanted to do once he was back on terra firma, Vande Hei said he was determined 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.”

When Vande Hei started his mission in April 2021, he was only expecting to stay aboard the orbiting outpost for six months, the usual length of an ISS mission. But changes to the crew rotation plan saw his and Dubrov’s mission extended to almost a full year.

When the NASA astronaut learned in September that his mission would be extended by another six months and that it would lead to a new record, a modest Vande Hei regarded the endeavor as a team effort, saying: “I don’t think it’s a record that I would even attribute to me, it’s a record that I would attribute to our space program. I expect this record to be broken, and that will be a further success for our space program.”

His mission has provided scientists with lots of data that will help them study the effects on the human body and mind of prolonged periods in space as NASA prepares for long-duration missions involving the moon and Mars.

Although Vande Hei now holds the record for the longest continuous space mission by an American, the length of his trip is well short of the record for the longest continuous stay in space, which was set by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov when he spent 437 days aboard the Mir space station in the mid-1990s.

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