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A NASA astronaut is back on Earth after a year in space, the longest for an American

This image provided by NASA shows astronaut Frank Rubio floating inside the cupola, the International Space Station's "window to the world." Rubio now holds the record for the longest U.S. spaceflight. Rubio surpassed the U.S. record of 355 days on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, at the International Space Station. He arrived at the outpost last September with two Russians for a routine six months.
NASA via AP
This image provided by NASA shows astronaut Frank Rubio floating inside the cupola, the International Space Station's "window to the world." Rubio now holds the record for the longest U.S. spaceflight. Rubio surpassed the U.S. record of 355 days on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, at the International Space Station. He arrived at the outpost last September with two Russians for a routine six months.

Updated September 28, 2023 at 2:07 PM ET

Astronaut Frank Rubio is back from space, after breaking the record for the longest space trip in history by an American.

After spending 371 days in space, Rubio landed in Kazakhstan at 7:17 a.m. ET on Wednesday with his crewmates, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin.

Rubio, who is from Miami, graduated from the NASA astronaut program in 2019. He was launched into space for the first time on Sep. 21, 2022.

On Sep. 11, he surpassed Mark Vande Hei's previous record of 355 days for the longest spaceflight by an American astronaut. He reached the one-year milestone last Thursday.

"It's been a mixed emotional roller coaster to a certain degree because personally, it was an incredible challenge, and it was difficult," Rubio said last week in an interview from the International Space Station. "Professionally, it was incredibly rewarding. It's a huge honor and it's a privilege to represent our office and our team this way."

The record for longest spaceflight overall is held by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov — 437 days in the mid-1990s.

Rubio initially thought the mission would be six months long, but the spacecraft he was aboard began leaking coolantand NASA said it couldn't make a normal return to Earth. So Russia's space agency sent an uncrewed spacecraft to the International Space Station to bring them home.

Rubio said when faced with the challenges of the mission, he tried to stay positive, relax and communicate with loved ones back home. Having a good team surrounding him also helped.

But if he had known before launch that the mission would last a year, Rubio said, he likely would have refused, because it would be too much time away from his wife and four children.

"But once you commit to the mission, once you're a part of the training, really all the assets and all the preparation that goes into you, the mission kind of counts on you."

Rubio completed nearly 6,000 orbits and traveled more than 157 million miles during his journey, which is about 328 trips to the Moon and back, NASA said.

While in space, he studied plant and physical sciences, NASA said.

Rubio will fly to Houston from Kazakhstan after going through medical checks, and said last week he is most looking forward to seeing his family again, the peace and quiet of his backyard and a fresh salad.

Before he was an astronaut, Rubio was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, where he flew Blackhawk helicopters and was a combat soldier during deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia. Rubio also received his doctorate of medicine in 2010 and is certified as a family physician and flight surgeon, according to his NASA biography.

NASA astronauts train for up to two years before embarking on a mission to space.

When starting the mission, Rubio said he felt queasy for a couple hours as his body adapted to being without gravity. He felt better the next morning, he added.

It could take two to six months for his body to get used to walking, standing and bearing weight again

NASA said Rubio's yearlong mission helps the agency understand spaceflight's impact on the human body longterm, as it aims to continue exploration missions on the Moon and Mars.

"Frank's record-breaking time in space is not just a milestone; it's a major contribution to our understanding of long-duration space missions," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. "Our astronauts make extraordinary sacrifices away from their homes and loved ones to further discovery."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie