NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei joined two Russian cosmonauts aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, detached from the International Space Station and crashed back to Earth on Wednesday, landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan for a US record 355-day stay in space to close.
Despite a break in East-West relations followingstation operations have continued normally and Vande Hei was betrayed at home as planned with Soyuz MS-19 / 65S commander Anton Shkaplerov and flight engineer Pyotr Dubrov.
The Soyuz module descending under a rippling orange-and-white parachute, made a shocking rocket-assisted touchdown near the city of Dzhezkazgan at 7:28 a.m. EDT (17:28 local time).
Russian recovery crews and NASA support personnel quickly gathered on the spacecraft to assist the crew members one by one for initial medical checks. All three were taken to nearby handrails, where they appeared in good spirits as they began to adapt to the unknown gravity.
For Shkaplerov, who sent a Russian actress and her director to the space station last October, the touchdown closed a 176-day flight, his fourth.
Vande Hei, who completed his second flight, and first-time pilot Dubrov took off last April aboard another Soyuz. During their stay in space, the two men traveled 150 million kilometers over 5,680 orbits, recording 355 days, seven hours and 45 minutes of the planet.
That set a single-flight record for an American astronaut, which moved Vande Hei past the 340-day mark of retired astronaut Scott Kelly and the 329-day mark of Christina Koch.
“I think it’s great,” Kelly said in a recent interview with CBS News. “What is it to say, records are being made to break? And that means we are doing things better than before. So yes, congratulations to him.”
Including a previous station visit, Vande Hei’s total time in space now stands at 523 days, making it to third place on the list of most experienced NASA astronauts behind Peggy Whitson and Jeff Williams. Kelly moved up a spot to fourth.
But the Russians hold the records for most of the time in space in general and by Wednesday’s landing, Shkaplerov had recorded 708 days of the planet over four flights, making him the seventh most experienced space floor in the world. In comparison, Vande Hei ranks 23rd on the world list.
In any case, Vande Hei downplayed the new American record before leaving the space station, saying “I do not think it is a record I would even attribute to myself; it is a record for our space program.”
“I have an enormous respect for Scott and Christina, both,” he said in a NASA interview. “And I know they would both be extremely happy, like the explorers they are, to see that we are strengthening exploration, we are bringing people further and further into space.”
After a two-hour flight aboard a Russian helicopter to an airport in Karaganda, Vande Hei made a long flight back to his home in Houston aboard a NASA jet, while Shkaplerov and Dubrov headed home to the cosmonaut training center in Star City, near Moscow.
Like all space station astronauts, Vande Hei spent two hours a day working on resistive weights, mounted on a zero-gravity treadmill, or riding on the spot on an exercise bike.
However, astronauts returning from long-term stays in space need several months to adjust to gravity.
“You know, 355 days is a long time,” Kelly said. “I know – 340 days is a long time. I hope he feels good when he comes back, but yes, it’s challenging when you’ve been there so long.”
With a view to months of physical rehabilitation to get his “land paws” back, Vande Hei told a NASA interviewer last week that he was primarily looking forward to “a cup of coffee for my wife and myself and then sitting on bed and talking to each other” while we I read the news or follow the news. “
“Just relaxing Saturday morning is a wonderful thing,” he said. “And then I would probably say guacamole and chips.”