Space

A NASA Astronaut Just Broke the Record for Longest Spaceflight by an American

Mark Vande Hei has orbited the Earth over 5,400 times aboard the ISS since launching in April 2021.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei during a spacewalk in 2017.
NASA

Give it up for Mark Vande Hei, who has spent more time in space than any other US astronaut as of Tuesday, March 15. 

Vande Hei is flying around the Earth at 17,000 miles per hour aboard the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 65. The retired Army colonel launched to the station in April 2021 for what was originally intended to be a six-month stay. 

In September, NASA announced Vande Hei would be staying for an extra six months, noting it would provide the chance to see how the body adapts to long periods in microgravity.

"I think all astronauts are explorers at heart, and to have the opportunity to contribute to furthering exploration is a great opportunity," Vande Hei said last September when it was announced he'd be staying on at Château de L'espace (that's what I call the ISS).  

The spaceflight record for an American now stands at 340.5 days -- but Vande Hei will eventually rack up 355 days in space as he isn't expected to return to Earth until March 30. That leaves him well clear of Scott Kelly's record of 340 days, set in 2016, and Christina Koch's record for longest spaceflight by a woman (328 days), set in 2019.

(For those playing at home, that means Vande Hei completed roughly 5,440 orbits of the Earth to date and will finish up with a grand total of around 5,680)

Falling 10 days short of a complete year in space puts Vande Hei in fourth place on the all-time list for human spaceflight, well behind Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who spent 437 days in space aboard the Mir space station, which preceded the ISS. Three other Russian cosmonauts hold positions two and three on the all-time list, and Vande Hei will share his record with Pyotr Dubrov, who launched on the same Soyuz in April 2021.

Vande Hei will return to Earth with Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov, another Russian cosmonaut, in a Soyuz capsule. The capsule will land in Kazakhstan. As usual, NASA personnel will be on standby for touchdown, evaluate Vande Hei's physical state and ferry him back to the US on a NASA jet.

The record comes at a time of uncertainty for the ISS as the Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens to jeopardize cooperation between the US and Russia in space. Though a heated Twitter exchange occurred between Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Scott Kelly after the former floated the idea of dropping the ISS from orbit in response to mounting sanctions against Russia, NASA has remained steadfast in maintaining good relations with Roscosmos.

During a press call on Feb. 28, Kathy Lueders, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, noted "we are not getting any indications at a working level that our counterparts are not committed to ongoing operation on the International Space Station."

A Soyuz rocket is scheduled to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 18, carrying three Russian cosmonauts: Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov.