NASA astronauts return to Earth after a year of record-setting spaceflight
NASA astronauts returned to Earth on Wednesday after a Russian journey to Earth after a U.S. record 355 days on the International Space Station.
Mark Vande Hei landed in a Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan with the Russian space agency’s Anton Shakapalrov and Piotr Dubrov, who spent space last year.
Despite growing tensions between the US and Russia over Vladimir Putin’s war with Ukraine, Vande Hei follows the traditional approach. A small team of NASA doctors and other staff were on hand for the touchdown and planned to return to Houston immediately with the 55-year-old astronaut.
Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Vande Hei said he was avoiding the issue with his two Russian crumates. “Amazingly … I’m not sure we really want to go there,” he said.
It was the first taste of gravity for Vande Hei and Dubrov after their Soyuz launch on April 9 last year. Shekapalrov joined them in the orbit lab in October, escorting a Russian film crew for a brief stay. To accommodate that tour, Vande Hei and Dubrov have doubled the length of their stay.
Before leaving the space station, Shakaplarov embraced his fellow astronauts as “my space brother and space sister.”
“There are human problems in the world. In orbit … we are a crew, “Shakapalrov said live on NASA TV broadcast on Tuesday. The space station symbolizes “friendship and cooperation and … the future of space exploration”.
The suspension of European satellite launches on Russian rockets and the Europe-Russia Mars rover being stuck on Earth for two more years have sparked war in other parts of space.
Vande Hei has surpassed NASA’s previous record for the longest single spaceflight in 15 days. In a very short time in the 437-day, 17-hour marathon of an astronaut-astronaut on the Mir space station in the 1990s, Dubrov has reached the top five in Russia, which remains a world record.
“The broken record means we’re improving,” said Scott Kelly, a retired astronaut and former NASA space endurance champ, whose 340-day mission ended in 2016.
Like Kelly, Vande Hei underwent medical examinations during his long stay to further NASA’s search for astronauts to return to the moon and Mars. He said daily meditation helped him cope during the mission, twice as much as his first station four years ago.
On board: three Russians who arrived two weeks ago and three Americans and a German who have been on board since November. Their replacement via SpaceX will be within three weeks. Next week, SpaceX will take three wealthy businessmen and their former astronaut escort to the station for a week-long tour arranged by the private Axiom Space.
Nine NASA astronauts began transporting to Elon Musk’s SpaceX 2020 station nine years after the shuttle program ended. In that interval, Russia offered the only taxi service, where NASA spends millions of dollars per soybean seat. Vande Hei’s trip was part of an exchange with Houston-based Axiom.
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