American and two Russians return to Earth after a year in space

A Russian Soyuz MS-23 space capsule descends to Earth (Roscosmos space corporation via AP)
A Russian Soyuz MS-23 space capsule descends to Earth (Roscosmos space corporation via AP)

A Nasa astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts have returned to Earth after being in space for just over a year.

American Frank Rubio set a record for the longest US spaceflight as a result of the extended stay.

The trio landed in a remote area of Kazakhstan, descending in a Soyuz capsule that was rushed up as a replacement after their original vehicle was hit by space junk and lost all its coolant while docked to the International Space Station.

What should have been a 180-day mission turned into a 371-day stay.

Mr Rubio spent more than two weeks longer in space than Mark Vande Hei, who held Nasa’s previous record for a single spaceflight.

Russia holds the world record of 437 days, set in the mid-1990s.

The Soyuz capsule that brought Mr Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin back was a replacement launched in February.

Kazakhstan Russia Space Station
A Russian Soyuz MS-23 space capsule descends to Earth (Roscosmos space corporation via AP)

Russian engineers suspect a piece of space junk pierced the radiator of their original capsule late last year, midway through what should have been a six-month mission.

Engineers worried that without cooling, the capsule’s electronics and any occupants could overheat to dangerous levels, so the craft returned empty.

There was not another Soyuz to launch a fresh crew until this month, so their replacements only arrived nearly two weeks ago.

“No one deserves to go home to their families more than you,” the space station’s new commander, Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen, said earlier this week.

NASA Astronaut Record
Frank Rubio floats inside the International Space Station (Nasa/AP)

Mr Rubio, 47, an Army doctor and helicopter pilot, said at a news conference last week that he never would have agreed to a full year in space if asked at the outset.

He ended up missing important family milestones including the oldest of his four children finishing her first year at the US Naval Academy and another heading off to West Point.

Mr Rubio said the psychological aspect of spending so long in space was tougher than he expected.

“Hugging my wife and kids is going to be paramount, and I’ll probably focus on that for the first couple days,” he said.

Mr Rubio may hold on to this record for a while. Nasa has no plans as of now for more year-long missions.

It was the first spaceflight for Mr Rubio and Mr Petelin, 40, who is an engineer. Mr Prokopyev, 48, an engineer and pilot, has done two long station stints.

They have logged 157 million miles since launching from Kazakhstan last September and circled the world nearly 6,000 times.