NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is returning to Earth this week after setting a new record for the longest continuous spaceflight by an American.
On March 15, Vande Hei broke the existing 340-day record set by Scott Kelly in 2016, and when he leaves the International Space Station (ISS) in the next few days, that record will have extended to 355 days, just 10 short of a full year.
Ahead of final preparations for departure alongside Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, Vande Hei has been speaking about the highs and lows of his lengthy mission in a video (below) shared on Twitter.
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) March 27, 2022
No doubt similar to Earth-based workers in jobs that require close collaboration with co-workers, Vande Hei said the highest points during his stay aboard the ISS were “the times when I was just hanging around, usually at mealtime with my crewmates and laughing so hard we were in tears about some comment that somebody made.”
As for lows, the astronaut, who is on his second stay aboard the ISS following a six-month stint that ended in 2018, said: “Physically, this is a challenging environment to be in. I’ve had a lot of congestion and headaches … times when you just feel very physically uncomfortable. Those are probably the low points, it colors everything you’re doing, it takes a lot more work to stay in the right frame of mind in those situations.”
Vande Hei suffered a setback in August when a medical issue prevented him from taking part in a spacewalk. As a result, the task was handed to another astronaut. While Vande Hei was able to take part in four spacewalks during his first mission four years ago, this time he stayed inside the ISS the whole time.
In a recent interview, the astronaut said that after returning home he was planning 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.”
While the NASA astronaut now has the record for the longest continuous space mission by an American, the record for the longest continuous stay in space remains with Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who lived aboard the Mir space station for 437 days and 18 hours in the mid-1990s.
NASA will be livestreaming Vande Hei’s return journey this week. Here’s how to watch.
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