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NASA astronaut Frank Rubio back on Earth after record spaceflight

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio will see his family in person for the first time in more than a year, after his unexpectedly lengthy time in space ended.
NASA astronaut Frank Rubio back on Earth after record spaceflight
Posted at 7:15 PM, Sep 27, 2023

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio is finally on Earth again, marking the end of his unexpectedly long, record-breaking spaceflight.

The 47-year-old and two Russian cosmonauts, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, made their safe, parachute-assisted landing southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, a little over three hours after leaving the International Space Station.

It's the first time the three astronauts have touched land since launching into space on Sept. 21, 2022. 

Though only expected to be there for six months, Rubio's return date was upended by a piece of space junk piercing the crew's original Russian Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft in December, causing a coolant leak that may have created too hot of temperatures on a return trip to Earth. This required a new Soyuz capsule be rushed up as a replacement, only reaching the space station two weeks ago.

This extended Rubio's time in space to 371 days, surpassing the previous record for longest spaceflight by an American astronaut by more than two weeks.

But his length of time is more than just a milestone, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said.

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"It's a major contribution to our understanding of long-duration space missions," Nelson said, as the agency plans to return to the Moon and explore Mars in the future. "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."

Rubio's time in space, which also marked his first journey there, spanned more than 157 million miles and approximately 5,936 orbits, NASA said. During that time, he provided research on plants and physical science studies, including bacterial interactions and crew exercise effects, the agency said.

But now, Rubio's main focus is getting back to his family, he recently said at a news conference. 

The father of four said he wouldn't have agreed to the full year had he known the length at its outset, as it caused him to miss important family milestones, according to the Associated Press. He also said the physiological aspect of the lengthy spaceflight was tougher than he expected.

But as he heads back to Houston, there are lots of astronauts still in space, with four set to return in February.

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