In an awe-inspiring triumph of human exploration, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio has returned to Earth after an incredible 371 days in space, smashing the record for the longest spaceflight by an American. Rubio's journey concluded with a landing in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian spacecraft, marking the end of a historic mission.
It's good to be back, an undoubtedly relieved Rubio exclaimed as he was carried out of the spacecraft. His return was initially slated for March, but an unexpected encounter with a micrometeorite left his Russian-made return ship compromised and unsafe for travel, according to NASA. This unfortunate turn of events necessitated an additional six months aboard the International Space Station until a backup vessel was ready to bring him home.
During a recent press briefing, Rubio candidly reflected on the roller coaster of emotions he experienced during his extended stay in space. He noted that had he known the true duration of the mission, he might have second-guessed his decision, as it meant missing pivotal family moments, such as sending his son off to college. Rubio and his wife are parents to four children.
At the age of 47, Rubio embarked on an extraordinary journey back to Earth, landing in central Kazakhstan after a roughly four-hour descent. He made the journey alongside two cosmonauts from Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, a testament to the enduring collaboration between U.S. and Russian space authorities, despite geopolitical tensions surrounding the conflict in Ukraine. Rubio's landing occurred at 7:17 a.m. Eastern time. Following their return, Rubio and his fellow cosmonauts were scheduled to be flown to eastern Kazakhstan, from where Rubio would board a NASA plane bound for Houston, home to the NASA Johnson Space Center.
Rubio had already made history earlier in the month by surpassing the previous record for the longest spaceflight by an American, which was set at 355 days by astronaut Mark Vande Hei, according to NASA. This mission marked Rubio's inaugural journey into space. As a former U.S. Army surgeon and helicopter pilot, he joined NASA as part of the agency's 2017 astronaut candidate class. Rubio hails from Miami.
Rubio anticipated feeling unwell during his initial hours back on Earth as his body readjusted to gravity. He shared that, like many returning astronauts, he would rely on medication and bags to ease the transition before getting some much-needed rest. Once he feels more like himself, Rubio expressed his eagerness to reunite with his wife and children, who displayed remarkable resilience throughout his unexpectedly lengthy stay in space. The return to terrestrial life may take a couple of months for him to regain strength and reacclimate to standing and walking.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson applauded Rubio's record-breaking achievement as a substantial contribution to our understanding of long-duration space missions. Rubio's mission, known as Expedition 68, focused on the impact of spaceflight on heart health and even included an intriguing experiment involving the growth of red dwarf tomatoes in space. This experiment aimed to test the feasibility of cultivating plants on future missions to the moon and Mars. Rubio shared his anticipation of reveling in the serene silence of his backyard after more than a year of enduring the constant hum of machinery aboard the International Space Station. He described his 371 days in space as an incredible personal and professional challenge, as well as an immensely rewarding experience.