Mark Vande Hei, a record-breaking NASA astronaut, is set to return to Earth from the International Space Station on March 30th in a Russian Soyuz rocket along with two Russian cosmonauts.
Vande Hei had been on the ISS since April 2021, when he launched from Kazakhstan on another Soyuz rocket.
Originally Vande Hei had planned to stay on board for only six months, which is the typical length of stay for most astronauts on the International Space Station but NASA revealed in September that his stay had been extended to make room for a few visiting tourists and a Russian movie team who had been sent to the ISS at the end of the previous year.
Vande Hei astronaut will now hold the record for the longest continuous stay in space by an American: 355 days.
Vande Hei and his two cosmonaut crewmates bid the remainder of the astronauts on the ISS farewell before boarding the Soyuz and closing the capsule’s hatch.
Vande Hei flew back to Houston, Texas, on a NASA Gulfstream jet, as has been the case for all prior astronauts who have returned from the ISS in the Soyuz.
Despite concerns about how global tensions may be leaking into space, the crew of the ISS demonstrated togetherness ahead of the Soyuz’s scheduled return.
Prior to the Soyuz return, the crew held a change of command ceremony on Tuesday, with previous commander Shkaplerov turning over the symbolic key to the space station to NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn.
Shkaplerov alluded to the Earth’s troubles throughout the event, “I’m happy to have been the leader of such a great crew,” he remarked, then added “On Earth, people have challenges. On the move… We’re all in this together.”
After Vande Hei departed the International Space Station at 3:21 a.m. EDT, he and the two cosmonauts 7:28 a.m. (5:28 p.m. Kazakhstan time) southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.
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