Three astronauts are apparently about to be twice as far from their home planet as originally planned.
NASA’s Frank Rubio and cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin depart for the International Space Station (ISS) on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on September 21, 2022.
All three were to come home in March on the same Soyuz. But the vehicle, known as MS-22, lost all of its coolant after an apparent micrometeoroid strike last month, making it unsuitable for carrying astronauts except in the event of an emergency. So Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos has decided to launch an uncrewed Soyuz to the orbiting laboratory on February 20 to bring Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin back to Earth.
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However, the next Soyuz will be docked at the ISS until its successor – the crew-carrying vehicle – is ready to go. This is likely to take some time, so Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin are getting huge mission extensions.
“The plan is for Frank and Dmitry and Sergei to be on board for several months until they come home, probably [in] Late September,” NASA’s ISS Operations Integration Manager Dina Contella said during a news conference Tuesday (Jan.
“We’re looking at the exact timing of that, but at this point, that will be when the vehicle is planned to come home,” she said.
If “late September” means sometime after Sept. 21, the MS-22 crew will be aloft for a full year—something no NASA astronaut has ever done, as Ars Technica’s Eric Berger notes. recently mentioned (opens in new tab),
Some have come close. For example, Mark Vande Hei will remain on station for 355 days between April 2021 and April 2022. Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko logged 340 days in space between March 2015 and March 2016, and Christina Koch was away from Earth for approximately 329 days. From April 2019 to February 2020.
Of these missions, only Kelly’s and Kornienko’s were to last so long. His highly publicized “Year in Space” was designed to gather data about the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body, to aid planning for future crewed missions to Mars.
Vande Hei and Koch stayed at the ISS longer than planned due to scheduling issues. The extension of Vande Hei, for example, was necessitated by Russia’s decision to launch filmmakers on the next Soyuz rather than as a replacement for the astronaut crew.
But NASA biomedical personnel and mission planners will undoubtedly be making use of the additional data generated during those unexpectedly long previous flights — and they will probably study Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin with the same approach and intensity.
Astronauts have been away from Earth for a whole year in a row. Valery Polyakov holds the record for the duration of a single space flight at 437 consecutive days. (opens in new tab) Russia’s old Mir space station in 1994 and 1995.
Mike Wall is the author of “out there (opens in new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaelwall (opens in new tab), Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab),