NASA astronaut Frank Rubio has been living in orbit for almost a year, breaking the record for the longest space stay by a NASA astronaut. He was supposed to return to Earth after six months, but a coolant leak in his Soyuz spacecraft delayed his departure by another six months. He is now scheduled to land on September 25, 2023, after spending 371 days in space.
Rubio’s mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has been an “incredible challenge”, but also an “incredible blessing”, he said in a video call with NASA chief Bill Nelson and deputy Pam Melroy on Wednesday. He thanked his family, friends, and community for their support and said he felt lucky and honored to represent the agency and the country.
The effects of long-duration spaceflight
Rubio’s extended stay in space will provide valuable data for researchers studying the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body and mind. NASA and its partners are planning ambitious crewed missions to the moon and Mars, which will require astronauts to spend months or years away from Earth.
Some of the challenges that Rubio and other astronauts face in space include microgravity, radiation, isolation, and disrupted circadian rhythms. These can affect their bones, muscles, organs, immune system, vision, cognition, and mental health. Rubio said he has been exercising regularly, following a healthy diet, and staying in touch with his loved ones to cope with these issues.
He also said he has been enjoying the view of Earth from the ISS and participating in various scientific experiments and educational activities. He has conducted seven spacewalks, totaling 46 hours and 15 minutes, and has helped install new solar arrays and a new docking port for the station. He has also grown plants, performed ultrasound scans, and played chess with students on Earth.
A record-breaking space mission
Rubio’s mission is not only the longest by a NASA astronaut, but also the second-longest by any human in history. The record holder is Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, who spent 437 days in space from 1994 to 1995. Rubio’s two crewmates, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov, will also return with him after spending 191 days in space.
Rubio’s mission has surpassed the previous record of 340 days, set by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly in 2016. Kelly’s mission was part of a twin study, in which he and his identical brother Mark, who stayed on Earth, were compared to understand the genetic and physiological changes caused by spaceflight. Rubio’s mission will also be compared to his twin brother, who is a doctor on Earth.
Rubio, who is 45 years old, is a former Army helicopter pilot and surgeon. He was selected as an astronaut in 2017 and launched to the ISS on October 14, 2022. He said he is looking forward to seeing his family and friends again, as well as eating fresh food and feeling the breeze on his face.