NASA astronaut to set American record for longest space stay by inhabiting ISS for 353 days

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Roscosmos cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov will remain aboard the International Space Station (ISS) till March 2022. Upon his return, Vande Hei will become the record holder for the longest single spaceflight for an American.

Vande Hei will be spending a total of 353 days in space after his original stay of six months was extended. The astronaut took to Twitter to post about his extended stay.

NASA astronaut and Expedition 65 Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei to stay aboard the ISS for 353 days after his original stay of six months was extended. Image credit: Flickr/NASA

The astronaut’s extended stay gives NASA the opportunity to study how the human body adapts to life in microgravity for longer time periods. This research is significant in planning future missions such as the Artemis mission to the moon or a long-duration mission to Mars.

Part of Expedition 65 as a Flight Engineer, Vande Hei and Dubrov were scheduled to return in October this year after a replacement crew was to launch on the Soyuz MS-19. However, Roscosmos had announced that director Klim Shipenko and actress Yulia Peresild would be sent aboard the spacecraft to film a movie. Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov would be joining the two.

While Peresild and Shipenko would return on the Soyuz MS-18 after filming for two weeks, Shkaplerov would stay with Dubrov and Vande Hei till 22 March.

Vande Hei said he had been prepared from the beginning about the possibility of his stay in space being extended. The astronaut was thankful for the opportunity to contribute to science and space exploration.

Before Vande Hei’s long stay in space, the longest spaceflight by an American was held by Scott Kelly, who spent 340 days at the ISS in 2015–16. However. Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov spent 437 days on the Mir space station from 1994 and 1995 still holds the record for the longest time a person has stayed in space.

The longer duration of his stay gives Vande Hei another chance to perform a spacewalk. The NASA astronaut was scheduled for a spacewalk last month, but it was postponed due to a “minor medical issue”.

Vande Hei’s stay also gives NASA the opportunity to negotiate with Roscosmos over Soyuz seats. The American organisation had bought seats for the Soyuz spacecraft from a third party, Axiom Space. It is believed that discussions are taking place to directly allow Russian cosmonauts to fly on commercial crew vehicles in exchange for NASA or other partner astronauts flying on Soyuz.

Vande Hei is also part of a group of astronauts who are studying rodents living on the ISS to determine how microgravity affects various biological systems and processes. The astronaut removed support components for a new carbon dioxide (CO2) scrubber which had kept it attached to the SpaceX Cargo Dragon spaceship during its flight to the ISS last month.

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