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Astronaut Frank Rubio Breaks U.S. Record For Longest Space Mission

Astronaut Frank Rubio breaks U.S. record for longest space mission, previously held by retired NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Rubio achieved this milestone while aboard the International Space Station in September 2022.

William Willis
Sep 12, 20237075 Shares102535 Views
Astronaut Frank Rubio breaks U.S. record for longest space mission, previously held by retired NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Rubio achieved this milestone while aboard the International Space Station in September 2022. He accomplished this feat at 1:40 p.m. ET on Monday, according to a spokesperson for NASA.
Additionally, Rubio is set to achieve another significant milestone in a few weeks, as a Russian Soyuz capsule is not scheduled to return him and his two fellow crewmates, cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, to Earth until September 27.
This implies that Rubio spent a minimum of 371 days in orbit upon completing his mission, potentially making him the first American to spend over a full calendar year in microgravity. However, Rubio's mission wasn't initially intended to set records.
When he departed for the space station via a Russian Soyuz capsule on September 21, 2022, he and his fellow crew members believed they were embarking on a six-month mission. Unfortunately, the spacecraft they used experienced a coolant leak in December, leading officials at Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, to deem it unsafe for the crew's return journey.
In an unexpected turn of events, the Soyuz MS-22 capsule made its return to Earth on March 28 without a crew onboard. Roscosmos subsequently initiated the launch of a replacement spacecraft, MS-23, which successfully docked with the space station on February 25. As a result, Rubio's planned return date was rescheduled to September, aligning with the upcoming launch of a new Soyuz vehicle.
This new spacecraft is set to carry a crew of two cosmonauts and one NASA astronaut and could launch as early as this Friday. To commemorate Rubio's remarkable achievement, he engaged in a conversation with Vande Hei on September 5, which was broadcast on NASA's media channel on Tuesday.
My family has been kind of the cornerstone that’s inspired me to hopefully keep somewhat of a good attitude while I’ve been up here. The resilience that my wife and kids showed - they faced a lot of challenges this past year, and just thrived throughout the whole entire process. I’m incredibly grateful for them and for that.- Rubio told Vande Hei
On Monday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson celebrated Rubio's record-breaking achievement in a social media post.
"Rubio’s journey in space embodies the essence of exploration," the statementreads.
"As he breaks records as the longest serving @NASA US astronaut in space, he also paves the way for future generations of astronauts," the statement reads. "Your dedication is truly out of this world, Frank!"
Frank Rubio inside the cupola, the International Space Station's window to the world
Frank Rubio inside the cupola, the International Space Station's window to the world

Record-Breaking Achievement

If all goes as scheduled, Rubio's 371-day mission will not set a new world record for the longest space mission. The late Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov holds that prestigious title, having spent an astonishing 437 continuous days in orbit aboard Russia's Mir space station from January 1994 to March 1995.
Mark Vande Hei had previously established a new U.S. record for the most consecutive days in space in 2022. This decision came after NASA and Roscosmos extended his mission due to Russia sending a two-person crew to the space station for a filming project. Vande Hei's return was delayed to accommodate the increased activity on the orbiting laboratory, although he had been aware of the potential extension before his arrival.
Before Vande Hei, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly held the record for the longest spaceflight by an American, lasting 340 days. This extended mission was a deliberate undertaking by NASA aimed at studying the long-term effects of spaceflight on the human body.
A Russian cosmonaut, Gennadi Padalka, currently holds the record for the most cumulative days spent in space. Padalka achieved this distinction in 2015, surpassing another cosmonaut, accumulating a remarkable total of 879 days over five separate spaceflights.
In contrast, the U.S. record for the most accumulated days in space belongs to Peggy Whitson, with a total of 675 days in orbit. Whitson, who retired from the NASA astronaut corps in 2018, has continued to contribute to this record, with her latest space activity as recent as 2023.
She now serves as a private astronaut for Axiom Space, a company that has organized two commercial trips to the space station, allowing paying customers to join a veteran professional astronaut in experiencing a journey to the orbiting laboratory.

Journey To Outer Space

Rubio embarked on his journey to the space station through a collaborative crew-swapping arrangement negotiated between NASA and Roscosmos during the summer of 2022.
In this exchange, NASA assigned Rubio to travel on the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft, while Roscosmos sent cosmonaut Anna Kikina on a SpaceX Crew Dragon mission, which launched in October 2022 and safely returned to Earth on March 11.
Despite the heightened geopolitical tensions arising from the Ukraine conflict, NASA has consistently emphasized the importance of its partnership with Roscosmos in ensuring the continuity of the space station's operations and the critical scientific research conducted aboard it.
Frank Rubio wearing his space suit while waving
Frank Rubio wearing his space suit while waving
When the ride-sharing agreement was initially revealed, NASA underscored its significance, stating that the agreement with Russia was essential to guarantee the "continued safe operations" of the space station. This proactive arrangement aimed to address potential scenarios where either the Russian Soyuz spacecraft or the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule might encounter operational challenges, ensuring that both American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts would maintain access to the space station through a seat-swap agreement.
Roscosmos did not have to depend on a SpaceX capsule to substitute the impaired Soyuz MS-22 crew ship. This was because the MS-23 spacecraft was ready for launch, and the coolant leak discovered on the MS-22 vehicle didn't necessarily suggest potential problems with other Soyuz spacecraft, as officials pointed out.
Joel Montalbano, the program manager for the International Space Station at NASA, stated during a press conference in July that Roscosmos had conducted an investigation into the matter and concluded that it was likely caused by an "external force." This suggested that a piece of orbital debris most likely struck the spacecraft, leading to the leak.
A NASA team has also looked at it independent of the Russian team and we also cannot find anything - based on the information we’ve been given by our Russian colleagues - of anything other than some type of external force or debris or something else like that.- Joel Montalbano
While residing in space, Rubio has witnessed the arrival and departure of several astronaut crews via SpaceX spacecraft. In addition to the Axiom-2 crew's visit in May, both the SpaceX Crew-5 and Crew-6 astronauts completed their missions during Rubio's tenure. Furthermore, the Crew-7 team, comprised of astronauts from NASA, Roscosmos, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the European Space Agency, joined the space station in August.
"I’ve been in space with 25 other people, and by the time [the next Soyuz flight gets] here, it’ll be 28 which is pretty phenomenal," Rubio told Vande Hei. "And every one of them have just been great crewmates, very special people and they hold special places now because I’ve been able to share this experience with them."
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