US Astronaut Frank Rubio, Russian Cosmonauts Begin Journey Back to Earth from International Space Station
U.S. astronaut Frank Rubio, who holds the prestigious record for the longest continuous spaceflight by an American, has commenced his return journey to Earth. In his company are two Russian cosmonauts, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin. Their space capsule, after a significant tenure, has undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) and is expected to enter Earth’s atmosphere and land in the vast grasslands of Kazakhstan. The schedule for these consequential events was provided by the Russian space corporation, Roscosmos.
A Series of Unexpected Hiccups
The reality of the extended stay dawned on Rubio slowly, following a chain of unexpected issues that unfolded hundreds of miles above Earth. The Russian spacecraft, Soyuz, which transported Rubio to the ISS in September last year, suffered a coolant leak in December, threatening his journey home. Another spacecraft attached to the ISS experienced a similar leak, causing delays in sending a replacement for Rubio and his crewmates in February. Despite these problems, Rubio, Prokopyev, and Petelin were never in grave danger aboard the ISS as NASA and Roscosmos worked tirelessly to secure their return journey. However, these incidents disrupted the timeline of their six-month-long mission, causing Rubio to spend double the planned time in orbit.
A Historic Year in Space
Last week, Rubio made history by breaking NASA’s single spaceflight record for continuous days spent in space by an American. The previous record was set by astronaut Mark Vande Hei between 2021 and 2022, at 355 days. Rubio, by the time he returns home, will have spent a whopping 371 days in space. Reflecting on his unexpected year in space, Rubio shared his mixed emotions about the extended stay and the challenges it posed, particularly missing important family events.
Space-Based Research Projects
During his tenure aboard the ISS, Rubio participated in various research projects as part of NASA’s preparations for future space missions. His projects included growing tomatoes outside of soil, servicing a device for 3D printed knee cartilage tissue in zero gravity, and installing new solar arrays on the ISS’s exterior. He also tested smaller exercise devices to evaluate if they could replace the ISS’s treadmills on future missions to the moon and Mars.
A few months into Rubio’s mission, officials from NASA and Roscosmos announced that the Soyuz spacecraft intended to bring Rubio, Prokopyev, and Petelin home had suffered a coolant leak, likely due to a micrometeoroid strike. The Soyuz was deemed unfit for return, and a replacement craft was sent to the station in February. This incident confirmed Rubio’s record-breaking stay and his year-long sojourn away from home.
Post-Return Adjustments and Expectations
Once Rubio returns to Earth, his body will need to readjust to bearing its weight after over a year in zero gravity. This adjustment might take him months to feel normal. Despite the challenges ahead, Rubio has a lot to look forward to, the first being a warm embrace with his wife and kids. He also plans to enjoy the quietude of his backyard in Miami, a stark change from the constant hum of machinery aboard the ISS.
Astronaut Lt. Col. Frank Rubio from the U.S. Army and NASA is concluding his historic stint in space this Wednesday, Sept 27. He will be departing from the ISS alongside two Russian cosmonauts aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, marking the end of an extraordinary journey that will be remembered for its record-breaking duration and the challenges overcome in the process.
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