NASA Astronaut Mark Vande Hei Gets Ride Back to Earth From Russia After Record Spaceflight

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images

There still is peace in space. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei caught a ride back home to Earth, Wednesday, courtesy of a Russian crew.

Vande Hei, along with cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, left the International Space Station Wednesday morning and touched down in Kazakhstan. NASA officials confirmed the safe landing of the three.

At a Glance: NASA Astronaut Makes It Back to Earth

  • NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei left the International Space Station early Wednesday and touched down in Kazakhstan.
  • He flew back with two Russian cosmonauts. Russian space controllers guided them home.
  • Vande Hei spent 355 straight days in space, besting the American record.

The trio took a Russian-made Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft from the space station down to Earth. And when Vande Hei stepped out of the capsule, he officially became the American record holder for longest time spent in space. He was up there for 355 days, 10 days short of a year. He beat Mark Kelly’s record by 15 days. Dubrov launched with Vande Hei last April, while Shkaplerov came on board the space station in October.

NASA doctors and several staffers were on hand to greet Vande Hei when the capsule floated down via an orange and white parachute near Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. They’ll take the astronaut back to NASA headquarters in Houston for testing.

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Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images

Chances are, Vande Hei will check out OK. After all, he’s used to long stays in space. All total, the astronaut has 523 days in space. NASA crunched the stats. Vande Hei has traveled more than 150 million miles in space. That’s the equivalent to 312 roundtrip treks to the moon. He orbited the Earth 5,680 times.

However, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Feb. 24, there was some fear that Vande Hei may not make it home on time. Dmitry Rogozin, the leader of the Russian space program, shared a video on his Twitter feed that indicated his cosmonauts would leave Vande Hei at the Space Station.

But there were no issues. Russian flight controllers even guided the three home.

“People have problems on Earth,” Shkaplerov told Space.com. “On orbit we are one crew. I think ISS is a symbol of the friendship and cooperation, like symbol of the future exploration of space.”

(Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images)

According to the New York Times, it took about 30 minutes for the three astronauts to come out of the capsule. Vande Hei was the last person out of the capsule. All three drank some tea, then headed to a nearby medical tent. Vande Hei also made a phone call.

The astronauts were scheduled to take a two-hour helicopter ride to Karaganda. Then, Vande Hei and the Americans with him will take a NASA Gulfstream jet back to Texas, with a planned stop in Germany to refuel.

NASA astronaut Thomas Mashburn takes over the command of the Space Station.

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