An astronaut from NASA and two Russian cosmonauts have successfully returned to Earth after spending over a year in space. American astronaut Frank Rubio has set a new record for the longest US space flight, surpassing the previous record holder, Mark Vande Hei. The trio landed in a remote area of Kazakhstan in a Soyuz capsule that was sent as a replacement after their original spacecraft lost coolant due to a collision with space debris.

The mission was intended to last 180 days but ended up being extended to 371 days. Rubio spent over two weeks longer in space than Vande Hei, while Russia still holds the overall record of 437 days for the longest space flight. The replacement Soyuz capsule was launched in February after Russian engineers discovered that a piece of space debris had punctured the radiator of the original capsule. Concerned about overheating, it was decided to return in the empty capsule.

The astronauts’ replacements arrived at the International Space Station almost two weeks ago, and the three returning crew members experienced intense gravity forces during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Recovery teams were ready to retrieve them once they landed in the desolate steppes of Kazakhstan.

Rubio, an army doctor and helicopter pilot, expressed his anticipation during a press conference to be reunited with his wife and children, and how the psychological aspect of spending a year in space was more challenging than he initially expected. Currently, NASA has no plans for future year-long missions, so Rubio’s record may endure for some time.

– The Associated Press