US astronaut Frank Rubio landed back on Earth Wednesday after 371 days in space.
He was meant to only spend half that time in space, but was stranded by a technical failure.
He "probably would have declined" the mission had he known its true length, he said.
US astronaut Frank Rubio became an unwilling record-holder after spending 371 days on the International Space Station (ISS), the longest time spent on a single spaceflight by any NASA astronaut.
Rubio was never meant to spent a year in space — his mission was for six months but he was left stranded on the ISS after his ride home sprang a leak.
The Soyuz spacecraft meant to take him home faltered in December 2022, requiring NASA to scramble to find a substitute.
Had Rubio known his spaceflight would have been so long, he "probably would have declined" he told CNN in the days before his return.
He said he wouldn't have wanted a year-long posting because it would mean missing family milestones back on Earth.
A broken ride extended the mission
Rubio set off for the ISS on the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft on September 21, 2022. It was his first spaceflight, and the MS-22 was meant to take him back when he was done. Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin flew up to the ISS with him.
Three months into his stay, it became clear there was a problem — MS-22 was spewing fuel particles into space, making it unsafe to ride.
—International Space Station (@Space_Station) December 15, 2022
Since then, NASA has rushed to find a way to bring Rubio home, especially in case they needed a "rescue" mission to retrieve him if there was a problem on the station while MS-22 was out of action.
It's not like there were no spacecrafts going to the station. SpaceX brought its commercial crew — Crew-5 — to the ISS and back during Rubio's stay. The problem is that each launch to the ISS is carefully planned out. Any seat swap creates a chain reaction altering the precisely tailored plans.
The agency at first looped in SpaceX to ferry Rubio home with its Crew-5 in the event of an emergency. In the end, another Soyuz spacecraft, MS-23, was swapped in and launched to the ISS without anybody on board. It brought Rubio and the two Russians back to Earth on Wednesday.
With his flight, Rubio beat the previous US record-holder Mark Vande Hei, who spent 355 days in space.
This, however, is far from the longest time spent on a single spaceflight overall. Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov spent 437 days aboard the Mir space station in the 1990s. More recently, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet spent 396 days aboard the ISS.
Rubio traveled the equivalent of 328 trips to the moon during his trip
Rubio completed about 5,936 orbits of the Earth during his time on the ISS. That's about 157 million miles, or approximately 328 trips to the moon, NASA said in a statement.
Rubio said he regretted missing important milestones for his family on Earth, USA Today reported.
But while on the station, he carried out important scientific experiments, which included studying microgravity, 3D printing of human cartilage in space, and growing tomatoes on the ISS — which NASA hopes will mean natural food could be grown in situ in the future, per a NASA statement.
"Frank's record-breaking time in space is not just a milestone; it's a major contribution to our understanding of long-duration space missions," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
"He embodies the true pioneer spirit that will pave the way for future exploration to the Moon, Mars, and beyond," said Nelson, per the statement.
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