After setting a record for the longest spaceflight by an American, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei landed in a remote part of Kazakhstan. The 355-day flight, which began April 9, 2021, beat the previous record of 340 days set by Scott Kelly back in 2016.
“Beautiful out here,” Vande Hei remarked about what appeared to be a sunny day in Khazakstan.
In a recent series of NASA videos before his departure from the International Space Station (ISS), Vande Hei said, “I’ve had an indoor job 24-7 for almost a year so I am looking forward to being outside no matter what kind of weather.”
NASA said Vande Hei’s spaceflight “will provide researchers the opportunity to observe the effects of long-duration spaceflight on humans.” Like Kelly, Vande Hei underwent medical testing during the flight. Vande Hei also took daily medication to help him cope with being in space for almost a full year.
“NASA and the nation are proud to welcome Mark home and grateful for his incredible contributions throughout his year-long stay on the International Space Station,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a Wednesday news release. “Mark’s mission is not only record-breaking, but also paving the way for future human explorers on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.”
While Vande Hei is a NASA astronaut, his record-setting spaceflight took place in a Russian Soyuz capsule. He returned to Earth Tuesday with cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov. Dubrov’s trip duration, which also lasted a year, was good for top five in Russian history.
The spaceflight’s end comes amid especially tense times between the United States and Russia, considering America’s significant role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Despite the tensions, Vande Hei’s return followed customary procedures, and he said he got along “fantastically” with his Russian crew members. However, he added he avoided discussing the invasion with them, saying, “I’m not sure we really want to go there.”
The cosmonauts expressed a similar sentiment Tuesday, saying that the ISS is a symbol of “friendship and cooperation.”
“People have problem on Earth. On orbit…we are one crew,” Shkaplerov said in a live NASA TV broadcast.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX began transporting NASA astronauts to the station in 2020, nine years after the shuttle program ended. During that gap, NASA shelled out tens of millions of dollars per Soyuz capsule seat to the Russians.