This US astronaut will have spent an entire year in orbit

NASA's Frank Rubio credits his family back on Earth for keeping him in 'somewhat of a good attitude.'
Astronaut Frank Rubio works in the Microgravity Science Glovebox swapping graphene aerogel samples for a space manufacturing study. NASA

What’s it like to spend a whole year in space? In just a matter of days, US astronaut Frank Rubio will be able to tell the tale. On Wednesday, he broke the record for the longest space mission taken by a US astronaut by spending 355 days in low orbit. He and his fellow Expedition 69 crew members are awaiting three new members that will arrive at the end of the week, according to NASA

The seven Expedition 69 members are actually a mashup of two groups, one of which, including Rubio, has been onboard for nearly a year. A Russian Soyuz capsule isn’t expected to return him and his crewmates back to Earth until September 27—meaning his full space trip will hit 371 days. This return date was rescheduled from an original March 2023 timeline so Russia could prepare the vehicle, according to CNN.

When leaving for the International Space Station, Rubio was only expected to spend six months up there. When the Russian Soyuz capsule holding him sprang a coolant leak back in December, the Russian space agency ruled that the craft wasn’t safe enough to bring Rubio and his colleagues back. In March, it made a solo trip back home, while in February a new Soyuz capsule made its way to the ISS. 

[Related: “How Russia’s war in Ukraine almost derailed Europe’s Mars rover” ]

“Rubio’s journey in space embodies the essence of exploration,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a social media statement on Monday, adding that Rubio’s dedication to space research paves the way for future endeavors by a new generation of astronauts. 

While Rubio’s feat beats out previous records set by retired NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei in 2022 and Scott Kelly in 2015-2016, Russia still holds the record for longest trip to space. Between January 1994 and March 1995, astronaut Valeri Polyakov spent 437 continuous days in orbit. Another Russian astronaut, Gennadi Padalka, set the record of most cumulative days in space—879—over the course of five different flights in 2015.

This adventure certainly wasn’t planned, but Rubio is taking it in stride. “I think this [duration] is really significant, in the sense that it teaches us that the human body can endure, it can adapt and—as we prepare to push back to the moon and then from there, onward onto hopefully Mars and further on into the solar system—I 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,” he said in a recent interview with ABC’s Good Morning America.

At 11 AM Tuesday, NASA broadcasted a pre-recorded “space-to-ground” chat between Rubio and Vande Hei, during which Rubio acknowledged his family. “They’ve been a key component, as much as I appreciate the team and how critical the entire human space flight team has been to this, really my family has been the cornerstone that’s inspired me to keep somewhat of a good attitude as I’ve been up here,” he adds. “Having [family] made it so much easier to be up here, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”