Astronauts land after 'accidentally' spending a year in space and circling the world 6,000 times

Frank Rubio
Frank Rubio is happy to be home - Roscosmos State Space Corporation

A NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are home after circling Earth some 6,000 times while they were stuck in space for more than a year.

The trio landed in a remote area of Kazakhstan, descending in a Soyuz capsule that was rushed up as a replacement after their original ride was hit by space junk and lost all its coolant while docked to the International Space Station.

What should have been a 180-day mission had turned into a 371-day stay – an unexpected adventure that meant American Frank Rubio set a record for the longest US spaceflight.

The Soyuz MS-23 space capsule lands in a remote area near Zhezkazgan in Kazakhstan
The Soyuz MS-23 space capsule lands in a remote area near Zhezkazgan in Kazakhstan - Roscosmos State Space Corporation

Rubio spent more than two weeks longer in space than Mark Vande Hei, who held NASA’s previous endurance record for a single spaceflight.

Russia holds the world record of 437 days, set in the mid-1990s.

The Soyuz capsule that brought Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin back was a replacement launched in February. Russian engineers suspect a piece of space junk pierced the radiator of their original capsule late last year, midway through what should have been a six-month mission. Engineers worried that without cooling, the capsule’s electronics and any occupants could overheat to dangerous levels, so the craft returned empty.

There wasn’t another Soyuz to launch a fresh crew until this month. Their replacements finally arrived nearly two weeks ago.

“No one deserves to go home to their families more than you,” the space station’s new commander, Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen, said earlier this week.

Expedition 69 NASA astronaut Frank Rubio squeezed out of the spacecraft
Expedition 69 NASA astronaut Frank Rubio squeezed out of the spacecraft - Roscosmos State Space Corporation

Mr Prokopyev told ground controllers throughout the descent that all three were feeling good. They experienced more than four times the force of gravity as their capsule streaked through the atmosphere and came to a touchdown in the barren Kazakh steppes, ending up on its side. Helicopters moved in with recovery crews to fetch the astronauts.

“It’s good to be home,” Mr Rubio said after being pulled from the capsule.

Mr Rubio, 47, an Army doctor and helicopter pilot, said last week that he never would have agreed to a full year in space if asked at the outset. He ended up missing important family milestones including the oldest of his four children finishing her first year at the US Naval Academy and another heading off to West Point military academy.

He had said the psychological aspect of spending so long in space was tougher than he expected.

It was the first spaceflight for Mr Rubio and Mr Petelin, 40, an engineer. Mr Prokopyev, 48, an engineer and pilot, has now pulled two long station stints.

They logged 157 million miles since launching from Kazakhstan last September and circled the world nearly 6,000 times.

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