After 341 consecutive days, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei now holds the record for the longest stay in space by a U.S. astronaut. The 55-year-old has been onboard the International Space Station since April 9, 2021, and takes the award from retired spaceman Scott Kelly, who spent 340 days in space.
Vande Hei is expected to punch his ticket home in a Soyuz spacecraft alongside cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov on March 30 after 355 days on the ISS.
“Our astronauts are incredible explorers helping expand our knowledge of how humans can live and work in space for longer periods of time,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Mark’s record-setting mission and his contributions to science are paving the way for more people to travel to space on longer duration missions as the agency pushes the boundaries of exploration to the Moon and Mars. Thank you for your service, Mark, and congratulations!”
Among the slew of scientific tests he participated in during his stay, the retired army colonel helped grow and evaluate vegetables harvested with the space station’s Vegetable Production System, or Veggie. That investigation seeks to build a food production system that can help astronauts meet their dietary needs with fresh vegetables cultivated in space.
Vande Hei also provided biological samples for an investigation that collects a core set of measurements, called Spaceflight Standard Measures. That investigation seeks to characterize “normal” changes in the human body during spaceflight.
Additionally, he contributed to the first formal investigation into how eating repetitive meals in spaceflight changes the appeal of certain foods over time. In space, menu fatigue can have severe consequences, including lost appetites, nutritional deficiencies along with the loss of body mass. Results will help researchers improve the design of current and future space food systems.
After Vande Hei lands, he will provide additional feedback to researchers investigating physical hazards of space such as bruises incurred from the force of landing. His feedback will support scientists better identify whether long-term human spaceflight makes crew members more vulnerable to such injuries and help researchers design protective measures in future spacecraft.
Vande Hei was the subject of intense drama recently when the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, put his mode of transportation home in question when they posted a video of a Soyuz leaving the ISS as the cosmonauts waive goodbye to Vande Hei. Subsequent reports state that the video was just a joke by Roscosmos. There was no mention of American astronauts Raja Chari, Kayla Barron, Thomas Marshburn or German astronaut Matthias Maurer who are also currently onboard the ISS.
While Vande Hei is the record holder among his American peers, he doesn’t hold the award for the longest continuous stay in space of any nation. Cosmonaut Valery Polyakov has the overall title after spending 438 days on Russia’s Mir space station in the mid-’90s. What’s more, Dubrov will also have stayed 355 days. Both were originally scheduled for a standard six-month shift but gave up their seats so that Roscosmos could launch a film director and actress to the ISS.