WASHINGTON — NASA confirmed Sept. 14 that one its astronauts, Mark Vande Hei, will remain on the International Space Station until next March, setting an American spaceflight duration record in the process.
The agency announced that Vande Hei and Russian cosmonaut Pyotr dubrov had their six-month stay on the station extended an additional six months. The two launched to the station on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft April 9 along with Oleg Novitskiy.
Ordinarily, the three would have returned together on that spacecraft in October after the launch of a replacement crew on Soyuz MS-19. Roscosmos had announced plans earlier this year to send Klim Shipenko, the director, and Yulia Peresild, the actress, to the station aboard that spacecraft. Also, Anton Shkaplerov, cosmonaut.
Shipenko and Peresild will spend nearly two weeks on the station, filming scenes for a movie, before returning on Soyuz MS-18 with Novitskiy. Shkaplerov, along with extended missions of Vande Hei or Dubrov, will be present on the station for six months.
According to NASA, Vande Hei and Dubrov would return, with Shkaplerov, in March 2022. While NASA did not give an exact return date, Vande Hei tweeted that he expected to spend approximately 353 days in space. The would break the record for the longest spaceflight by an American astronaut: 340 days, set by Scott Kelly on his “one-year” mission to the ISS in 2015-16.
Vande Hei said that an extended stay was something he was ready for. The opportunity to experience this with wonderful crewmates while contributing to science and future exploration is exciting!”
Even before the launch, Vande Hei said he was aware of Russian plans to film a movie on the station in October, taking seats that would have been used for him to return home after six months. It’s a chance to have a new experience in my life. In March, he stated that he had never been in space for more than six months.
Nelson, in his own tweet, offered his appreciation to Vande Hei. “Thank you, Mark, for your dedication to @NASA and research that will prepare humanity for Artemis missions to the Moon and later to Mars!”
The extended stay may give Vande Hei a second chance to perform a spacewalk. Vande Hei was originally scheduled to join Aki Hoshide for a spacewalk to install equipment necessary to future solar panel upgrades. NASA delayed the spacewalk due to Vande Hei’s “minor medical issue”. Although NASA didn’t provide any further details, Vande Hei tweeted later that he had a pinched nervous system in his neck. That spacewalk took place Sept. 12 with Thomas Pesquet taking Vande Hei’s place.
Vande Hei’s longer stay on the station also gives NASA more time to work out a long-term solution for access to Soyuz seats. NASA purchased the seat for Vande Hei through AxiomSpace, rather than buying it directly. Axiom Space purchased the seat from Roscosmos, and then gave it to NASA for a place on a future crew mission.
NASA has been working with Roscosmos to reach an agreement to exchange seats directly, with Russian cosmonauts flying on commercial crew vehicles in exchange for NASA or other partner astronauts flying on Soyuz. These discussions are still ongoing.
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