After 355 days in space, NASA Astronaut Mark Vande Hei has safely landed in Kazakhstan on Wednesday aboard a Russian spacecraft. Vande Hei now holds the record for the longest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut, beating out the previous record holder, Scott Kelly, by 15 more days; Kelly stayed for 340.
Vande Hei’s historic stay in space had been overshadowed by tensions between the U.S. and Russia, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The infamous director of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin — a documented arsehole, Putin fanboy and amateur Bond villain — threatened to strand Vande Hei on the ISS.
But like many other things we’ve seen during Russia’s invasion and ongoing aggression, Putin and his lackeys don’t entirely represent the country or the organisations they were handed stewardship over. Really, just check out this plea from Reddit’s favourite ex-governor and ex-terminator, Arnie. In the end, NASA and Roscosmos kept working together to bring the crew home.
Vande Hei returned to Earth aboard the Soyuz MS-19, a Roscosmos crew ship. The Russian spacecraft left the ISS early on Wednesday with Vande Hei and two Russian cosmonauts, Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov. After the Soyuz’s parachute-assisted landing, the crew underwent brief medical checks before Russian helicopters flew them to Karaganda, Kazakhstan. From there, a NASA plane will fly Vande Hei to Germany, and finally to his home in Houston, Texas.
Vande Hei had launched on April 9, 2021, long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, accompanied by cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and, notably, Pyotr Dubrov. Meaning Dubrov was in space for as many days as Vande Hei, matching the U.S. record.
And even though the 355-day continuous spaceflight is, indeed, long, Vande Hei has logged a lifetime total of 523 days in space. That’s quite the tenure. Now that he’s back home after his long stay in orbit, the AP reports the astronaut is looking forward to making coffee and sharing a cup with his wife Julie, as well as eating a lot of guacamole and chips. I’d like to recommend adding some great salsa, too! Only the best for Vande Hei.