The Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft parachutes into a remote area near the city of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls. NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and two Russian cosmonauts pulled away from the International Space Station and returned to Earth early Wednesday, landing on the Kazakh steppe to end an unexpected yearlong stay in space, the longest solo flight in US space history.
With Soyuz MS-69/23S commander Sergei Prokopyev watching the cockpit displays, co-pilot Dmitry Petelin on the left and NASA flight engineer Frank Rubio on the right, the Russian shuttle separated from the space station’s multi-port Prichal module. 3:54 a.m. EDT.
After pulling back to a safe distance from the lab and waiting to reach the precise point in space to begin its descent, the spacecraft fired its stop rockets for four minutes and 39 seconds, starting at 6:24 a.m., slowing the craft to 17,100 miles per hour. about 286 mph.
This was enough to drop the far side of the orbiter deep into the atmosphere and direct the craft to its target landing site.
Separated from the upper orbital compartment and the lower propulsion and power module, the central crew compartment, the only one protected by a heat shield, at 6:55 a.m. hit the top of the visible atmosphere at an altitude of 62 miles and landed near the city. in the city of Dzhezkazgan at 7:17 a.m. (17:17 local time).
“Everybody did really well,” Rubio said. “It’s good to be home.”
NASA astronaut Frank Rubio exits, Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev (center) and Dmitry Petelin sit in chairs near the Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft after landing. Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls. Unofficial mission duration: 370 days, 21 hours and 22 minutes for a trip spanning 5,936 orbits and 157 million miles.
Asked earlier what he was most looking forward to after returning to Earth, Rubio, a father of four, said that “the most important thing will be to hug my wife and kids. And I’ll probably focus on that for the first few days.
“We’re blessed enough to have a quiet backyard,” he added. “And I think just going out in the yard and enjoying the trees and the quiet.” Cars are constantly buzzing here. … So I’m looking forward to just being outside and enjoying the peace and quiet.
Russian rescue crews, along with U.S. flight surgeons and support personnel, stood at the Soyuz landing pad to help the returning crew exit the cramped decent module as their bodies begin to adjust to the unfamiliar gravity after years of weightlessness. .
Like all members of the station’s long-term crew, all three men spent about two hours a day staying in top shape. Even so, Rubio said it will likely take several months for them to regain their land legs.
“Probably your vestibular system is the most affected,” he said. “And after that you really need a couple of months to recover. Our trainers do a great job of keeping us in shape. But the reality is that we don’t stand, we don’t walk, we don’t support our own weight.
“So it just takes a little time for your bones and muscles to get used to coming back down to Earth all the time.” So it will be two to six months before I can basically say I feel normal.
The Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft undocks from the International Space Station at the start of its journey back to Earth. Image: NASA Television. The late cosmonaut Valery Poliakov holds the world record for the longest space flight, spending 438 days on the Russian space station Mir in 1994-1995. Prokopiev, Petelin and Rubio are now third on the list, behind retired cosmonaut Sergei Avdeev, who in 1998-1999. worked on the ship “Mir” for 380 days.
The longest previous US flight was by Mark Vande Hei in 2021-2022. After spending 355 days on the International Space Station.
After initial medical checks at the landing site, the Soyuz crew was to be flown by helicopter to the city of Karaganda, where Rubio would board a NASA Gulfstream jet for the long flight back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The cosmonauts will be flown to Star City near Moscow on a Russian plane.
When Rubio and his astronaut crewmates in 2022. September 21 before going into space, they expected to spend six months on the International Space Station, a typical long-duration crew trip.
However, a coolant leak disabled their shuttle Soyuz MS-22/68S last December, prompting the Russians to launch a replacement, the Soyuz MS-23/69S, last February. That meant Prokopiev, Petelin and Rubio had to sit out another six months to get the Russian crew back on the rotation schedule.
“It was pretty hard on a personal level because I was missing my family and I knew I was going to miss some big milestones, especially for my kids,” Rubio told The Associated Press in an interview from orbit.
“Birthdays, anniversaries, my son is going to college this year, my oldest daughter is going to be in her first year of college,” he added. “We tried very hard to stay in touch with each other. … My wife, my kids, they were troopers, and they handled it incredibly well.
“And how well they handled it made it easier for me to focus on the job and deal with the hand we were dealt.”
During a brief change of command ceremony on Tuesday, ISS Expedition 69 commander Prokopiev handed over the lab to European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen.
Speaking to the departing crew members, Mogensen offered his congratulations, saying, “You have shown resilience, professionalism and grace in the face of unexpected challenges and great uncertainty.”
“It’s one thing to launch into space knowing you’re going to be here for a year,” he added. “It’s a completely different thing for you and your families when you find out at the end of a six-month mission that you’re going to spend another six months in space. But you took it on your shoulders and excelled.”
He thanked Prokopiev, Petelin and Rubio for their “competence, dedication and hard work” in keeping the station ship in shape and “setting us up for success” on ISS Expedition 70.
“We hope to leave the space station in as good a condition as we found it,” Mogensen concluded. “No one deserves to go home to their families more than you.”
Prokopiev, Petelin and Rubio were replaced by Soyuz MS-24/70S commander Oleg Kononenko, flight engineer Nikolai Chub and NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara, who arrived at the space station on September 15.
Mogensen flew to the station last month on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA’s Jasmin Moghbeli, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa and cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov.