Record-breaking Frank Rubio, a NASA astronaut, has finally touched down and is experiencing Earth’s gravity for the first time in almost a year. On Wednesday at 5:17 p.m. local time (7:17 a.m. ET), Rubio and his two Russian colleagues, cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, parachuted to a touchdown in Kazakhstan aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft.
Rubio, who was only anticipated to stay six months on the International Space Station, came to an unexpected and lengthy conclusion with the arrival of the crew. Instead, he spent a total of 371 days in space after it was discovered that his first vehicle was leaking coolant while he was moored to the orbiting station.
For the longest period of time a US astronaut has ever spent in microgravity, Rubio’s stay set a new record. He also made history by being the first American to spend a complete year in orbit.
Rubio’s record-breaking mission also had several other significant firsts for him: this was his first trip to space after being chosen for the NASA astronaut corps in 2017, and before the start of the mission, he made history by being the first astronaut of El Salvadoran descent to go to low-Earth orbit.
In a recent interview with CNN, Rubio stated that he “probably would have declined” the job before starting training if he had realised his time on the space station would be twice as long as first anticipated.
And it’s solely due to family issues that occurred during the past year, he added. And I would have simply had to say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” if I had realised that I would have to miss those crucial events.
Rubio, a father of four, will likely start his return trip from the Soyuz spacecraft’s landing location close to the town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. Before boarding an aircraft to Houston, he will first fly to Karaganda, which is located around 330 miles (530 km) northeast of Dzhezkazgan.
According to NASA, Rubio and his fellow crew members covered a total distance of 157.4 million miles (253.3 million km) and performed 5,963 Earth orbits.
Rubio broke NASA’s Mark Vande Hei’s previous record for the longest space stay by a US astronaut, which stood at 355 days, established in 2022. The world record for the longest stay in space is held by the late Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who spent 437 continuous days in orbit aboard the Mir space station between January 1994 and March 1995.
US and Russian space cooperation
As part of a ride-sharing arrangement worked out between NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, in the summer of 2022 amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Rubio travelled to the space station aboard a Russian spacecraft. The seat-swap plan was an effort to uphold long-standing protocols that tried to guarantee access to the space station for both the United States and Russia — the outpost’s major operators — should either nation encounter spacecraft problems that kept their personnel grounded.
On September 21, 2022, Rubio, Prokopyev, and Petelin launched aboard the Soyuz MS-22 craft and arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) three hours later in safety. They then started working inside the orbiting laboratory while the Soyuz capsule remained connected to the space station’s exterior.
Rubio expressed his gratitude to his family at a press conference last week, saying that their “resilience and strength has carried me through this entire mission.”
Less than three months into the Soyuz MS-22 crew’s journey, coolant started to leak from the craft. Roscosmos’ investigations, which were later examined by NASA, revealed that the spacecraft was probably hit by a tiny object in orbit. A micrometeorite or piece of orbital debris, a growing concern in the increasingly crowded environment of low-Earth orbit, was found to be the perpetrator. After it was determined that the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft was unfit to return the crew, Roscosmos moved fast to launch a new vessel, the Soyuz MS-23, in February.
But Rubio and his companions were still unable to go back home: Instead, officials decided to extend their stay as Roscosmos prepared to launch yet another Soyuz spacecraft with a new crew to take their place.
Space station crew rotation
Rubio’s return on Wednesday was made possible by the Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft, which was finally prepared this month and sent NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara, Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko, and Nikolai Chub to the space station on September 15. Rubio, a doctor and military helicopter pilot with more than 600 hours of combat experience, recognised that due to the effects that prolonged stays in microgravity may have on the body, he probably won’t be going back to his pre-spaceflight life right away.
It’ll take two to six months before I can practically declare that I feel normal because we aren’t walking or supporting our own weight while in space, he added. He is eager to experience many earthly wonders, though: “Up here we kind of have the constant hum of machinery that’s keeping us alive,” he remarked in a space interview. I’m looking forward to spending some time outside and relaxing in the calm.