Mark Vande Hei Back on Earth After Record-Breaking 355 Days in Space

Mark Vande Hei Back on Earth After Record-Breaking 355 Days in Space

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei returned to Earth this morning after a record 355 days in space, surpassing Scott Kelly’s 340 days. The landing of Soyuz MS-19 comes at a time of tense U.S.-Russian relationships because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but all operations appeared normal as Vande Hei and two Russian colleagues set foot on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Mark Vande Hei performing an experiment on the International Space Station during record breaking 355 day mission. Credit: NASA

Vande Hei and Russian cosmonaut Pytor Dubrov launched on Soyuz MS-18 on April 9, 2021 and originally were to come home in October on the same spacecraft. However, Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos decided to fly two space tourists, a film director and actress, to the ISS for a 12-day mission to shoot scenes for a movie. They needed the two seats on Soyuz MS-18 to return home with its commander, Oleg Novitsky, so Vande Hei and Dubrov pulled a double shift, waiting to return until now on Soyuz MS-19 with its commander Anton Shkaplerov, who took the tourists up.

Vande Hei said he’d been told before launch this might happen and he was more than happy to stay for an extra tour.  Combined with a previous flight, he now has accumulated 523 days in space. Only two other Americans have spent more cumulative time in space, Peggy Whitson who racked up 666 days over three flights and Jeffrey Williams, 534 days over four flights.

Indeed, Vande Hei seemed absolutely gleeful this morning when he exited the spacecraft shortly after the 7:28 am EDT landing. He was last out of the capsule, following Shkaplerov and Dubrov. The order is based on which seat they were in.


NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei looking very happy after landing in Kazakhstan at 7:28 am ET March 30, 2022 following a record-breaking 355 days in space on this mission. Added to a previous flight, he now has spent 523 days in space. Screengrab.

He and his companions were taken to a medical tent for checkups before boarding helicopters for a two-hour flight to Karaganda. Once there, Vande Hei will board a NASA Gulfstream jet for the trip home to Houston, while Shkaplerov and Dubrov head home to Star City, near Moscow.

Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov after exiting Soyuz MS-19, March 30, 2022, completing 176 days in space on this mission. He now has a total of 709 days in space. Screengrab.

NASA and Russia’s cosmonaut corps and mission control team are maintaining a calm, business-as-usual manner during the dramatically changed U.S.-Russian geopolitical relationship. That stands in sharp contrast to ongoing offensive tweets from the head of Russia’s space program, Dmitry Rogozin.

Shkaplerov was ISS commander until yesterday when he handed the symbolic key to the space station over to NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn in a change-of-command ceremony.

Speaking in English, he said “People have problems on Earth. On orbit, we are one crew. And I think ISS is [a] … symbol of the friendship and cooperation, and …[a] symbol of [the] future of exploration of space.”

Russian cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov after exiting Soyuz MS-19, March 30, 2022, completing 355 days in space. This was his first mission. Screengrab.

Shkaplerov’s Soyuz MS-19 launch was on October 5, so he accrued 176 days in space on this trip, his fourth. He now has a total of 709 days in space.

Like Vande Hei, Dubrov was on ISS for 355 days. This was his first spaceflight. Four other Russians have been in space on a single mission longer so it is not a record for him.

The world record for continuous duration in space is 438 days and is held by Valeriy Polyakov. He was on Russia’s Mir space station in 1994-1995 while several other crews came and went on shorter duration missions.

The ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries working through the European Space Agency. ISS operations are continuing as usual despite the war in Ukraine and sanctions being imposed on Russia by those and other countries.

Three Russians, three Americans and one German are now aboard the ISS. The three Russian cosmonauts — Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergei Korsakov — just arrived last week to replace the Soyuz MS-19 crew. The four astronauts — Raja Chari (NASA), Tom Marshburn (NASA), Kayla Barron (NASA) and Matthias Maurer (ESA/Germany) — have been there since November and will return in late April after their replacements arrive on the Crew-4 mission, scheduled for launch on April 19. Before that, the Axiom-1 private astronaut mission will visit ISS for eight of the 10 days they are in orbit. That launch is now set for April 6.

The fact that the crews and their mission operations teams on the ground continue to work so well together is a testament to their professionalism and commitment. Russia’s team graciously welcomed Vande Hei back today with a big sign on the screen at Mission Control near Moscow.



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