What NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei did in space at the end of the 355-day mission

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei has returned safely to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) after breaking the record for longest single-space flight by a NASA astronaut.

Vande Hei landed in Kazakhstan at 7:28 am ET Wednesday morning along with Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov after making a parachute-assisted descent.

The Russian Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) at 3:21 a.m. Wednesday. About three hours later, the spacecraft fired its thrusters in a deorbit burn that slowed it in preparation for reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Shortly after landing, Vande Hei was seen on the phone as he was transported to a makeshift medical tent for a routine check-up.

Vande Hei had spent almost a year in space with Dubrov – a total of 355 days. Their two six-month stays on board the ISS were extended by a further six months last year.

The long stay surpasses the previous NASA record for the longest single space flight, which was 340 days and was held by former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

Vande Hei’s return had been the subject of speculation in recent weeks amid fears Russia might refuse to return him to Earth because of tensions with the US over the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, in a statement to news week Earlier this month, NASA said it was continuing to work with Russia to safely transport crew members to and from the ISS, and Vande Hei would return.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei pictured at the Star City Cosmonaut Training Center outside Moscow in August 2017. Vande Hei returned to Earth on March 30 after spending almost a year in space.
STR/AFP/Getty

What did Mark Vande Hei do on the International Space Station?

During his time on the ISS, Vande Hei orbited the Earth some 5,680 times and traveled more than 150 million miles. He also saw 13 different spacecraft arrive at the station, including SpaceX’s Dragon and Russia’s Soyuz capsules.

On board, Vande Hei participated in various scientific experiments, including one that studied muscle atrophy in space using man-made tissues and one that tested how the human immune system works in microgravity.

He installed an experimental platform that allowed astronauts to place materials like concrete, seeds, and microbes outside the space station and expose them to the harsh vacuum of space to see what would happen. He also took part in harvesting chili peppers in space as part of testing growth and irrigation systems that allow astronauts to grow crops microgravity.

Vande Hei also installed hardware for starting and extinguishing fires in preparation for fire safety experiments on board the station. Such experiments could help determine the best methods for extinguishing space fires and identify safer materials for future space facilities.

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