NASA Astronaut Frank Rubio Returns from 371-Day Space Mission, Sets Record
On Wednesday, Sept. 27, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and his Russian colleagues, Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, successfully concluded their 371-day mission at the International Space Station (ISS). They safely returned to Earth aboard the Soyuz MS-23 capsule and landed in Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan at 7:17 a.m. ET. Emerging from the space vessel, the astronauts felt the solid Earth beneath their feet for the first time in a little over a year.
The crew originally embarked on the Soyuz MS-22 to the space station on Sept. 21 last year, intending to return after a standard six-month stay. However, these plans changed when the Soyuz MS-22 suffered a coolant leak in December. Such a leak could have potentially exposed the crew to dangerously high temperatures during their return journey to Earth. Therefore, NASA and Roscosmos officials determined the spacecraft unfit to travel in, forcing the astronauts to stay in the ISS for another six months until a replacement vehicle was made to facilitate their return and rotate a new crew in.
This unexpectedly prolonged stay adds to the list of achievements in Rubio’s career. At the age of 47, he is not only an astronaut but also holds qualifications as a medical doctor and military helicopter pilot with over 600 hours of combat experience. When he first set course for the space station, he also became the first astronaut of Salvadoran descent sent into space.
With his triumphant return to Earth, Rubio has surpassed the previous American record of 355 consecutive days of spaceflight set by Mark Vande Hei, breaking it by over two weeks. However, the world record of 437 days in space is still held by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, which he achieved in the mid-1990s.
Currently, NASA has no future plans for yearlong missions, unless more unexpected issues arise, which only adds to the impressive nature of Rubio's accomplishment.
Remarkable as Rubio's skills and achievements are, his mission also entailed many personal sacrifices. The additional six months in space meant missing many important events in his family’s lives, such as his daughter completing her first year at the U.S. Naval Academy and his son’s departure to West Point.
“If they had asked me upfront, before you start training, I probably would have declined, and that’s only because of family,” Rubio admitted in a media briefing when asked if he would have signed up for a year in space if he had known beforehand. “Had I known I would miss those very important events, I just would have to say, ‘thank you, but no thank you.” Clearly, Rubio faced both physical and psychological challenges during his time aboard the ISS.
Now back on Earth, Rubio will head back to Houston where he lives with his family. Over the next few months, undoubtedly, he will dedicate his time to reconnecting with them and enjoying our planet’s refreshing air and gravity. However, Rubio acknowledges that it is unlikely his condition will return to what it was before the mission. NASA reports that prolonged space flight can result in bone loss, muscle mass, and impaired balance; all of these factors can make it difficult for astronauts to transition from one gravity field to another.
Of course, these sacrifices are not without vital results. While staying at the ISS, Rubio and his crew conducted scientific experiments spanning a variety of subjects, from bacteria to plants. One particular study involved research in growing plants while in space and whether or not microgravity affects their nutritional value. These scientific discoveries are of immense value, and there's no doubt that findings from astronauts like Frank Rubio will propel humanity one step closer to achieving advanced space travel.