NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, back on Earth after breaking the record for the longest single spaceflight in history by an American, participated in a virtual news conference last week, from the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Vande Hei’s extended mission aboard the International Space Station led to a total of 355 days in space. The extended mission undertaken by Vande Hei will allow NASA to better observe the effects of long-duration spaceflight on humans as the plans to return to the Moon under the Artemis program and prepare for human exploration of Mars.
Vande Hei launched April 9, 2021, alongside Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov. It was his second journey into space. The 355 day-mission is the longest single spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut and gives him a lifetime total of 523 days in space. Dubrov, who was on his first spaceflight, also remained onboard for 355 days.
The NASA astronaut returned to Earth Wednesday, March 30, along with Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Dubrov. The trio departed the International Space Station at 3:21 a.m. EDT and made a safe, parachute-assisted landing at 7:28 a.m. (5:28 p.m. Kazakhstan time) southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Vande Hei then returned to Houston aboard a NASA plane Thursday, March 31.
Vande Hei completed approximately 5,680 orbits of the Earth and a journey of more than 150 million miles, roughly the equivalent of 312 trips to the Moon and back. He witnessed the arrival of 15 visiting spacecraft and new modules, and the departure of 14 visiting spacecraft.
During his record mission, Vande Hei spent many hours contributing to scientific activities aboard the space station, conducting everything from plant research to physical sciences studies. He participated in a study to test if engineered tissues cultured in space could provide a model for studying muscle loss and assessing possible treatments prior to clinical trials. He also participated in the first and second harvests of chile peppers grown in space to study the challenges of growing plants in microgravity, which could help crews can grow their own food on future long-duration missions.