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NASA astronaut Frank Rubio returning to Earth after record 371 days in space
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NASA astronaut Frank Rubio returning to Earth after record 371 days in space
by Darryl Coote
Washington DC (UPI) Sep 27, 2021

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station early Wednesday, bringing an end to American astronaut Frank Rubio's U.S. record-setting 371-day mission in space.

The Soyuz MS-23 detached from the station's Prichal docking module at 3:54 a.m. EDT Wednesday as the orbital was soaring 260 miles over southeastern Mongolia with Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin on board.

The Soyuz spacecraft is now heading back to Earth, where it is scheduled to land about 90 miles southeast of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, at 7:17 a.m. EDT, or 5:17 p.m. local time.

With Rubio's exit, he sets a new U.S. record for most continuous days in space at 371 days, breaking the previous record of 355 days set by astronaut Mark Vande Hei in March 2022.

Rubio had arrived at the station Sept. 21 of last year, by hitching a ride with his Russian counterparts aboard the Soyuz MS-22 amid strained relations between their two nations over the Kremlin's war in Ukraine that almost saw cosmonauts pulled from the joint orbiting laboratory.

Rubio was only to be in space six months for his first mission, but the spacecraft they arrived on sprung a coolant leak in December extending his stay another six months. In February, the Russians launched the un-piloted MS-23 to the station that would take them home.

The American remarked on the difficulty of a life in space in his final press briefing held in the days leading to his exit from the orbital that he had called home for more than a year.

"I think the one thing that I've tried to do and hopefully have achieved -- I certainly haven't done it perfectly -- is to just kind of stay positive and stay steady throughout the mission despite the internal up and downs," he said.

"You try to just focus on the mission and on the job and remain steady because ultimately, every day you have to show up and do the work. And up here in this very unforgiving environment, we have to do things right."

He said professionally, the mission was "incredibly rewarding" and "a huge honor," but personally, "it was an incredible challenge" and "difficult."

The mission is also the among longest ever, with cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov setting the record of 438 days between October 1994 and March 1995.

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