Three astronauts will apparently be away from their home planet for twice as long as originally planned.
NASA’s Frank Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin were launched toward the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on September 21, 2022.
The trio was due to return 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 unfit to carry astronauts except in an emergency. So Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos has decided to launch an unmanned 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 remain docked at the ISS until its successor – a crew-carrying vehicle – is ready to go. It will likely take a while, so Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin will get a hefty assignment extension.
“The plan is for Frank and Dimitri and Sergey to stay on board for several months until they come home, probably [in] late September,” said Dina Contella, NASA’s ISS operations integration manager, during a news conference Tuesday (Jan. 17).
“We’re looking at the exact timing of that, but at this point it will be when the vehicle is scheduled to come home,” she said.
If “late September” means sometime after September 21, the MS-22 crew will end up staying in the air for a full year — something no NASA astronaut has ever done, as Ars Technica’s Eric Berger recently noted . (opens in a new tab).
A few have come close. For example, Mark Vande Hei lived aboard the 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 nearly 329 days, from April 2019 to February 2020.
Of these missions, only Kelly and Kornienko’s mission was to last this long. Their highly publicized “year in space” was designed to collect data on the effects of prolonged space travel on the human body, to aid in the planning of future crewed missions to Mars.
Vande Hei and Koch stayed aboard the ISS longer than planned due to scheduling problems. Vande Hei’s expansion, for example, was necessitated by Russia’s decision to launch filmmakers on the next Soyuz in line instead of a replacement astronaut crew.
But NASA’s biomedical personnel and mission planners are undoubtedly using the extra data generated during these unexpectedly long previous flights — and they will likely study Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin with the same outlook and intensity.
Cosmonauts have lived outside the Earth for a whole year continuously, by the way. Valery Polyakov holds the record for the duration of a single space flight, with 437 consecutive days (opens in a new tab) aboard Russia’s old space station Mir in 1994 and 1995.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there (opens in a new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).