ALMATY—U.S. astronaut Frank Rubio, who shattered the American record for the longest continuous space flight, along with two Russian cosmonauts, touched down in the steppe of Kazakhstan on Wednesday after spending over a year on the International Space Station (ISS).
Their Soyuz MS-23 capsule gracefully undocked from the ISS a minute ahead of schedule, embarking on a thrilling three and a half hour descent back to Earth, ultimately landing southeast of the city of Zhezqazghan.
“It’s fantastic to be back,” exclaimed Mr. Rubio, 47, with a beaming smile, as he joined Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev, 48, and Dmitry Petelin, 40, on solid ground.
When asked about his crew mates, Mr. Rubio enthusiastically replied, “They were fantastic, everyone performed exceptionally well.”
As a token of appreciation, Mr. Rubio received a Russian matryoshka doll, while Mr. Prokopyev was captured on camera, grinning beside the capsule, clutching a watermelon he had requested upon landing. When questioned about his souvenirs from space, he simply replied, “A good mood.”
Russian mission control at Star City, located outside Moscow, confirmed that the crew members were in good health after spending slightly over a year aboard the ISS. They touched down precisely at 1117 GMT.
Mr. Rubio, embarking on his inaugural space voyage, emerged from the capsule, which was dimly lit due to the intense reentry temperatures. He flashed a thumbs up and waved as Russian and U.S. space officials monitored his blood pressure and heart rate, ensuring his well-being as they covered him with a warm blanket.
The trio faced a six-month delay in their return due to a leak in their original spacecraft, necessitating the dispatch of a replacement. Consequently, their mission was unexpectedly extended to a remarkable 371 days in orbit.
On September 11, Mr. Rubio surpassed the previous NASA record of 355 consecutive days in space, set by the now-retired U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Additionally, Mr. Rubio became the first American to spend an entire year in space.
Although Mr. Rubio broke the American record, he and his Russian colleagues still have a long way to go to reach the world record held by Russia’s Valeri Polyakov, who spent an astonishing 437 consecutive days and 18 hours during a Mir space station mission from January 1994 to March 1995. Sadly, Polyakov passed away last September at the age of 80.
Roscosmos revealed that Prokopyev has accumulated a total of over 567 days in space, including his previous missions.
Mr. Rubio, born to Salvadoran parents in Los Angeles but raised in Miami, is a board-certified family physician and flight surgeon. He is also a former U.S. Army special forces officer and a decorated Blackhawk helicopter pilot, having flown combat missions in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
During a press conference from orbit, eight days prior to his return to Earth, Mr. Rubio admitted that he might have declined his first spaceflight had he known in advance that it would last at least a year. He cited family responsibilities as a primary concern. However, he ultimately felt honored and embraced the mission extension.
Mr. Rubio anticipates that it will take several months to fully readjust his balance and regain his strength after an extended period in microgravity. He eagerly looks forward to the tranquility of his backyard, in stark contrast to the constant hum and buzz of machinery aboard the ISS.
How will the knowledge gained from this mission contribute to future advancements in space travel
Space Station. (Photo: Roscosmos/TASS)
The extended mission provided invaluable data and insights for future long-duration space travel. The crew conducted various experiments and research in areas such as biology, human physiology, and materials science, contributing to advancements in these fields.
One of the key objectives of the mission was to study the effects of long-duration space travel on the human body. By monitoring changes in Mr. Rubio’s health throughout the year, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the physiological and psychological impact of extended stays in space. This knowledge is vital for future missions, including potential missions to Mars.
Maintaining the crew’s mental and emotional well-being was also a priority. To alleviate the effects of isolation and confinement, the crew had regular communication with their families and friends on Earth and engaged in recreational activities such as watching movies and exercising. Psychological support systems were also in place to ensure their mental health.
The return of the crew marks another successful achievement for international space cooperation. The collaboration between NASA and Roscosmos has consistently demonstrated the power of nations working together to push the boundaries of human exploration and scientific discovery.
Looking ahead, the knowledge gained from this mission will contribute to further advancements in space travel and pave the way for future endeavors. As humanity continues to expand its presence in space, the lessons learned from Mr. Rubio, Mr. Prokopyev, and Mr. Petelin’s journey will help ensure the success and safety of future astronauts venturing into the unknown.