NASA astronaut Frank Rubio has completed one year in space, setting a new record for the longest single spaceflight by an American. Rubio, who is part of the Expedition 69 crew on the International Space Station (ISS), surpassed the previous record of 355 days set by Mark Vande Hei in 2022.
A Year of Challenges and Achievements
Rubio’s mission was originally planned to last six months, but it was extended due to a series of unexpected events. In December 2022, a coolant leak was detected in the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft that had brought Rubio and his two Russian crewmates, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, to the ISS in September 2022. The leak was later found to be caused by a micrometeorite impact, rendering the spacecraft unable to perform a crew return.
The Soyuz MS-22 returned to Earth uncrewed, and a replacement Soyuz MS-23 was launched in February 2023 and docked at the ISS. However, the crew exchange was delayed again by another leak in a different spacecraft attached to the station. As a result, Rubio and his colleagues had to stay in orbit for an additional six months, making their mission the longest continuous spaceflight by any crew in history.
Despite the challenges, Rubio and his crewmates have accomplished many scientific and engineering tasks during their year-long stay on the ISS. They have conducted hundreds of experiments in various fields, such as biology, physics, medicine, and technology. Some of the highlights include:
- Studying how bacteria adapt to spaceflight and how to prevent infections on future missions.
- Using water-based and air-based techniques to grow tomatoes in microgravity and test their nutritional value and taste.
- Testing an expandable capsule that could serve as a habitat for astronauts on the Moon or Mars.
- Performing several spacewalks to repair and upgrade the station’s systems and equipment.
- Participating in educational and outreach activities to inspire students and the public about space exploration.
A Record-Breaking Return
Rubio and his crewmates are scheduled to return to Earth on September 27, 2023, landing in Kazakhstan. They will have spent 371 days in space, breaking the previous record of 340 days held by Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, who completed a one-year mission in 2016. The current world record for the longest single spaceflight is 437 days, set by Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov in 1995.
Rubio, who is a former Army surgeon and a father of four, said he is looking forward to seeing his family and friends after his historic mission. He also expressed his gratitude to NASA and his international partners for their support and collaboration. He said he hopes his experience will contribute to the advancement of human spaceflight and the exploration of the solar system.
NASA congratulated Rubio on his achievement and praised his dedication and resilience. The agency said Rubio’s mission will provide valuable data and insights for future long-duration missions, such as the Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024, and eventually send humans to Mars.