Ars Technica reports on a long-awaited milestone. After many not-quite-that-long missions, a NASA astronaut is on the way to finally spend more than a full year living in space:
When Mark Vande Hei launched to the space station in April 2021, he was planning for a six-month mission. But again, the Russians shuffled the schedule in order to use a Soyuz spacecraft to make a movie on the station. So instead of launching a replacement crew on Soyuz MS-19, film director Klim Shipenko and actress Yulia Peresild flew to the station on that spacecraft, along with cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.
With this extended mission, Vande Hei spent 355 days in space and currently holds the record for longest-duration spaceflight by an American astronaut. But still, he did not spend a full year in space.
That may now finally happen, however. On Tuesday, a senior official in NASA’s International Space Station Program, Dina Contella, said during a news briefing that the crew of the damaged Soyuz spacecraft would now “probably” come back to Earth in late September.
Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA’s Frank Rubio launched on the Soyuz MS-22 vehicle on September 21, 2022. The mission was due to return this spring, but after a micrometeorite strike in December, the vehicle’s external cooling loop was damaged. (Russian officials are convinced it was a micrometeorite rather than orbit debris due to the high velocity of the strike and its unlikely impact vector.)
As a result, this three-person crew will now return to Earth on a new Soyuz vehicle, MS-23, that will launch and fly autonomously to the station next month. Because the next Soyuz crew spacecraft will not be ready for flight until the fall, this will delay the launch of a replacement crew. A source said that at present, NASA’s internal schedule calls for this Soyuz MS-23 vehicle to return to Earth after September 21, 2023.
With the caveat that such schedules are invariably fluid and emergencies are always possible, this means Rubio is presently on course to spend more than a full year in space—becoming the first NASA astronaut to do so. It’s a nice and unexpected feat for the first-time flyer, who only joined NASA in 2017 and is the space agency’s first astronaut of Salvadoran origin.
As a note, this is only the first American astronaut to go up for more than a year. Russia’s record-holder spent 438 days in orbit.