It was a truly out-of-this-world homecoming for NASA astronaut Frank Rubio on Wednesday morning. The cosmic explorer touched down on Earth safely, concluding a record-setting 371-day mission in space.
Rubio, along with Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, disembarked from the International Space Station, initiating their journey back at 3:54 a.m. EDT. They experienced a secure, parachute-aided landing at 7:17 a.m. (5:17 p.m. Kazakhstan time), southeast of the secluded town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.
“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,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said 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.”
The three astronauts began their mission on Sept. 21, 2022. This journey marks the lengthiest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut, surpassing the prior record of 355 days held by NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei.
Rubio executed approximately 5,936 orbits throughout his mission, traversing over 157 million miles, tantamount to 328 lunar round trips. He observed the ingress of 15 spacecraft and the egress of 14, representing both crewed and autonomous cargo missions.
Due to a coolant leak in the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft, Rubio, Prokopyev, and Petelin made their return instead aboard the Soyuz MS-23. The MS-22 will return unmanned.
Post-landing, after undergoing medical evaluations, the crew is set to return to Karaganda, Kazakhstan. Subsequently, Rubio will embark on a NASA aircraft for his journey back to Houston.
During his groundbreaking mission, Rubio dedicated extensive hours to scientific endeavors on the space station, engaging in diverse research activities spanning from botany to physical sciences.
Remaining on the orbital platform are NASA astronauts Loral O’Hara and Jasmin Moghbeli, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Andreas Mogensen, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Konstantin Borisov, Oleg Kononenko, and Nikolai Chub.
Mogensen, Moghbeli, Furukawa, and Borisov are scheduled for Earth return in February 2024, following a brief transition period with the astronauts of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-8 mission. O’Hara is slated to return in March 2024, while Kononenko and Chub are anticipated to conclude their year-long stay in September 2024.