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NASA Astronaut Frank Rubio Inadvertently Breaks Record for Longest U.S. Space Mission

The astronaut was stranded on board the ISS after a Russian Soyuz spacecraft suffered a coolant leak, setting the stage for a prolonged mission.

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Rubio was the first NASA astronaut to launch to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket since April 2021.
Rubio was the first NASA astronaut to launch to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket since April 2021.
Photo: NASA

When astronaut Frank Rubio launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in September 2022, he was scheduled to return back to Earth in six months’ time. Rubio’s ride to his home planet, however, suffered a malfunction that left him stranded in low Earth orbit. As a result of the mishap, Rubio is set to spend more than a year in space, breaking the record for the longest duration mission by a U.S. astronaut.

On Monday, the NASA astronaut will beat the previous record of 355 days set by Mark Vande Hei in 2022. Rubio will return to Earth no earlier than September 27, logging in 371 days in Earth orbit and becoming the first U.S. astronaut, and one of only six people, to spend a year in space.


Although it wasn’t intentional, Rubio is making the most out of his extended time in space. “I think this [duration] is really significant in the sense that it teaches us that the human body can endure,” Rubio said during a recent interview with ABC’s Good Morning America. “As we prepare to push back to the moon and then from there, onward onto hopefully Mars and further on into the solar systemI think it’s really important that we learn just how the human body learns to adapt, and how we can optimize that process so that we can improve our performance as we explore further and further out from Earth.”

Rubio launched to the ISS on September 21, 2022. He was the first to ride on board a Soyuz spacecraft since April 2021, the result of a seat-swap agreement between NASA and Roscosmos which stipulated that a U.S. astronaut would ride aboard the Russian capsule in exchange for a Russian cosmonaut boarding a SpaceX Crew Dragon for the very first time.


In December 2022, the Soyuz spacecraft that transported Rubio, along with Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, began leaking coolant into low Earth orbit while attached to the ISS. The exact reason behind the leak was not officially announced, but the spacecraft was deemed unfit to fly the trio back to Earth.

Prokopyev, Petelin, and Rubio’s stay on the station was extended for another six months, and the three-person crew is set to return on board Soyuz MS-23 later this month. Similarly to Rubio, the previous record-holder, Vande Hei, was also not aware of the amount of time he would end up spending on the ISS before launching to Earth orbit. Instead, Vande Hei’s stay on the space station was also extended to accommodate a two-person Russian film crew shooting a movie on the ISS.

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