US astronaut ends record spaceflight with Russian ride home

Space_Station_02867 This photo provided by NASA shows a "Welcome Back" sign for NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei at Russian Mission Control Center on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Mark Vande Hei landed in a Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan alongside the Russian Space Agency’s Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, who also spent the past year in space. Despite escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Vladimir Putin’s war with Ukraine, Vande Hei’s return followed customary procedures. .
Space_Station_90823 Expedition 66 Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov is carried to a medical tent shortly after he and fellow crew mates Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos landed in their Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Vande Hei and Dubrov are returning to Earth after logging 355 days in space as members of Expeditions 64-66 aboard the International Space Station.
Space_Station_09033 Expedition 66 Russian cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov is carried to a medical tent shortly after he and fellow crew mates Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos landed in their Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Vande Hei and Dubrov are returning to Earth after logging 355 days in space as members of Expeditions 64-66 aboard the International Space Station.
Space_Station_92881 Expedition 66 NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is carried to a medical tent shortly after he and fellow crew mates Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos landed in their Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Vande Hei and Dubrov are returning to Earth after logging 355 days in space as members of Expeditions 64-66 aboard the International Space Station.
Space_Station_13747 The Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft is seen as it lands in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan with Expedition 66 crew members Mark Vande Hei of NASA, and cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov, and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Vande Hei and Dubrov are returning to Earth after logging 355 days in space as members of Expeditions 64-66 aboard the International Space Station.
Space_Station_53467 The Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft is seen as it lands in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan with Expedition 66 crew members Mark Vande Hei of NASA, and cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov, and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, Wednesday, March 30, 2022.
Space_Station_64053 Russian Search and Rescue teams arrive at the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft shortly after it landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan with Expedition 66 crew members Mark Vande Hei of NASA, and cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov, and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, Wednesday, March 30, 2022.
Kazakhstan_Russia_Space_Station_14624 In this photo taken from video footage released by Roscosmos Space Agency, the Russian Soyuz MS-19 space capsule descends southeast of the Kazakh town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The Soyuz MS-19 capsule landed upright in the steppes of Kazakhstan on Wednesday with NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Russian Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.
Kazakhstan_Russia_Space_Station_39894 In this photo taken from video footage released by Roscosmos Space Agency, the Russian Soyuz MS-19 space capsule lands, southeast of the Kazakh town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The Soyuz MS-19 capsule landed upright in the steppes of Kazakhstan on Wednesday with NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Russian Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.
Kazakhstan_Russia_Space_Station_46939 In this photo taken from video footage released by Roscosmos Space Agency, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei sits in a chair shortly after the landing of the Russian Soyuz MS-19 space capsule southeast of the Kazakh town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The Soyuz MS-19 capsule landed upright in the steppes of Kazakhstan on Wednesday with NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Russian Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.
Kazakhstan_Russia_Space_Station_42081 In this photo taken from video footage released by Roscosmos Space Agency, rescue team members carry NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei shortly after the landing of the Russian Soyuz MS-19 space capsule southeast of the Kazakh town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The Soyuz MS-19 capsule landed upright in the steppes of Kazakhstan on Wednesday with NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Russian Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.
Space_Station_57863 FILE - In this photo provided by NASA, U.S. astronaut and Expedition 66 Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei peers at the Earth below from inside the seven-windowed cupola, the International Space Station's window to the world on Feb. 4, 2022.
Space_Station_75257 FILE - In this Aug. 17, 2021 photo made available by NASA, astronaut and Expedition 65 Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei inspects a spacesuit in preparation for a spacewalk at the International Space Station.
Space_Station_54553 NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei gives the thumbs up outside the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft after he landed with Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Vande Hei and Dubrov are returning to Earth after logging 355 days in space as members of Expeditions 64-66 aboard the International Space Station.
Space_Station_72527 The Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft lands in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan with Expedition 66 crew members Mark Vande Hei of NASA, and cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov, and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Despite escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Vladimir Putin’s war with Ukraine, Vande Hei’s return followed customary procedures. A small NASA team of doctors and other staff was on hand for the touchdown and planned to return immediately to Houston with the 55-year-old astronaut.
Space_Station_55094 Russian cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov is seen outside the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft after he landed with fellow Expedition 66 crew members Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Vande Hei and Dubrov are returning to Earth after logging 355 days in space as members of Expeditions 64-66 aboard the International Space Station.
Space_Station_18937 Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov waves outside the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft after he landed with fellow Expedition 66 crew members Russian cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos, and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Vande Hei and Dubrov are returning to Earth after logging 355 days in space as members of Expeditions 64-66 aboard the International Space Station.
Space_Station_11572 Expedition 66 crew members Mark Vande Hei of NASA, left, cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov, center, and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos, are seen inside their Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft after is landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Despite escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Vladimir Putin’s war with Ukraine, Vande Hei’s return followed customary procedures. A small NASA team of doctors and other staff was on hand for the touchdown and planned to return immediately to Houston with the 55-year-old astronaut.
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A NASA astronaut caught a Russian ride back to Earth on Wednesday after a U.S. record 355 days at the International Space Station, returning with two cosmonauts to a world torn apart by war.

Mark Vande Hei landed in a Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan alongside the Russian Space Agency’s Pyotr Dubrov, who also spent the past year in space, and Anton Shkaplerov. Wind blew the capsule onto its side following touchdown, and the trio emerged into the late afternoon sun one by one.

Vande Hei, the last one out, grinned and waved as he was carried to a reclining chair out in the open Kazakh steppes.

“Beautiful out here,” said Vande Hei, putting on a face mask and ballcap.

Despite escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Vladimir Putin’s war with Ukraine, Vande Hei’s return followed customary procedures. A small NASA team of doctors and other staff was on hand for the touchdown and planned to return immediately to Houston with the 55-year-old astronaut.

Even before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Vande Hei said he was avoiding the subject with his two Russian crewmates. Despite getting along “fantastically … I’m not sure we really want to go there,” he said.

It was the first taste of gravity for Vande Hei and Dubrov since their Soyuz launch on April 9 last year. Shkaplerov joined them at the orbiting lab in October, escorting a Russian film crew up for a brief stay. To accommodate that visit, Vande Hei and Dubrov doubled the length of their stay.

Before departing the space station, Shkaplerov embraced his fellow astronauts as “my space brothers and space sister.”

“People have problem on Earth. On orbit … we are one crew,” Shkaplerov said in a live NASA TV broadcast Tuesday. The space station is a symbol of “friendship and cooperation and … future of exploration of space.”

The war tensions bubbled over in other areas of space with the suspension of European satellite launches on Russian rockets and the Europe-Russia Mars rover stuck on Earth for another two years.

Vande Hei surpassed NASA’s previous record for the longest single spaceflight by 15 days. Dubrov moved into Russia’s top five, well short of the 437-day, 17-hour marathon by a cosmonaut-physician aboard the 1990s Mir space station that remains the world record.

“Broken records mean we’re making progress,” said NASA’s previous space endurance champ, retired astronaut Scott Kelly, whose 340-day mission ended in 2016.

Like Kelly, Vande Hei underwent medical testing during his long stay to further NASA’s quest to get astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars. He said daily meditation helped him cope during the mission, twice as long as his first station stint four years earlier.

“I’ve had an indoor job 24-7 for almost a year so I am looking forward to being outside no matter what kind of weather,” Vande Hei said in a recent series of NASA videos. As for food, he’s looking forward to making a cup of coffee for himself and wife Julie, and digging into guacamole and chips.

Remaining on board: Three Russians who arrived two weeks ago and three Americans and one German, who have been aboard since November. Their replacements are due in three weeks via SpaceX. Next week, SpaceX will fly three rich businessmen and their ex-astronaut escort to the station for a weeklong visit arranged by the private Axiom Space.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX began transporting NASA astronauts to the station in 2020, nine years after the shuttle program ended. During that gap, Russia offered the lone taxi service, with NASA shelling out tens of millions of dollars per Soyuz seat. Vande Hei’s ride was part of a barter exchange with Houston-based Axiom.

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