Sept. 27 (UPI) -- NASA astronaut Frank Rubio emerged from the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft Wednesday in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, ending his record-setting 371-day space mission.
The Soyuz MS-23 touched down about 90 miles southeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, at 7:17 a.m. EDT.
"Welcome home, Frank!" NASA wrote on social media, as the landing completed the single longest spaceflight for any NASA astronaut at 371 days.
"Frank's record-breaking time in space is not just a milestone; it's a major contribution to our understanding of long-duration space missions," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. "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 finished approximately 5,936 orbits during a space journey of more than 157 million miles. That's the rough equivalent of 328 round trips to the Moon.
Rubio's extended mission provides researchers with the ability to observe long-duration spaceflight effects on humans as NASA looks ahead to a return to the Moon and exploration of Mars.
The previous record of 355 days in space was set by astronaut Mark Vande Hei in March 2022.
NASA astronauts Loral O' Hara and Jasmin Moghbeli remain aboard the space station along with European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen.
JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Konstantin Borisov, Oleg Kononenko, and Nikolai Chub are also still working on the space station.
Mogensen, Moghbeli, Furukawa, and Boriso are scheduled to get back to Earth in February 2024. O'Hara is scheduled for a return from the space station in March 2024.
Kononenko and Chub will spend a year aboard the station, returning in September 2024, according to NASA.
The Soyuz detached from the station's Prichal docking module at 3:54 a.m. EDT Wednesday as the orbital was soaring 260 miles over southeastern Mongolia with Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin on board.
The crewed Soyuz spacecraft successfully undocked from the space station's Prichal module at 3:54am ET today, heading for a parachute-assisted landing in Kazakhstan later this morning at 7:17am. https://t.co/JFga6FbL08 pic.twitter.com/GyertHXPxb— International Space Station (@Space_Station) September 27, 2023
Rubio had arrived at the station on Sept. 21 of last year, by hitching a ride with his Russian counterparts aboard the Soyuz MS-22 amid strained relations between their two nations over the Kremlin's war in Ukraine that almost saw cosmonauts pulled from the joint orbiting laboratory.
Rubio was only meant to be in space for six months for his first mission, but the spacecraft they arrived on sprung a coolant leak in December extending his stay another six months. In February, the Russians launched the un-piloted MS-23 to the station that would take them home.
The American remarked on the difficulty of life in space in his final press briefing held in the days leading to his exit from the orbital that he had called home for more than a year.
"I think the one thing that I've tried to do and hopefully have achieved -- I certainly haven't done it perfectly -- is to just kind of stay positive and stay steady throughout the mission despite the internal up and downs," he said.
"You try to just focus on the mission and on the job and remain steady because ultimately, every day you have to show up and do the work. And up here in this very unforgiving environment, we have to do things right."
He said professionally, the mission was "incredibly rewarding" and "a huge honor," but personally, "it was an incredible challenge" and "difficult."
The mission is also among the longest ever, with cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov setting the record of 438 days between January 1994 and March 1995.