NASA Astronaut Sets New American Space Endurance Record; Russia Promises to Bring Him Home

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei studies cotton genetics for the Plant Habitat-5 space agriculture experiment. (Credit: NASA)

Mark Vande Hei set a new American record for the most consecutive days in space on Tuesday, breaking the 340-day record set by Scott Kelly.

Vande Hei arrived at the International Space Station on April 9, 2021, and is scheduled to return to Earth on March 30, 2022 after 355 days in space.

Russia has assured NASA that Vande Hei will be returned safety to Earth despite on-going tensions and U.S. sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

“US astronaut Mark Vande Hei will travel back home in the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft together with Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov on March 30. Roscosmos has never let anybody doubt its reliability as a partner,” the Russian space corporation said in a statement.

Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin has threatened to pull Russia out of the space station program and let the facility crash over a populated area if sanctions over the Ukraine invasion are lifted. The station is large enough that pieces will survive reentry and strike the ground. It is not clear whether Rogozin is serious or bluffing.

Vande Hei was originally scheduled to stay aboard the station for about six months. However, he ended up staying almost a year when Roscosmos decided to send up a director and actress to film a movie on the station aboard the Soyuz spacecraft that was to have brought him home. The decision also extended the stay of Dubrov.