Explained | Who is Mark Vande Hei, the NASA astronaut who returned to the earth after 355 days?

With all his spaceflights, Mark Vande Hei has now spent a total of 523 days in space.

With all his spaceflights, Mark Vande Hei has now spent a total of 523 days in space.

The story so far: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut Mark Vande Hei returned to the earth on March 30 after spending 355 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS), setting a record for the longest single spaceflight in history by an American.

Mr. Vande Hei was onboard the ISS alongside Russian cosmonauts at a time when the relations between the U.S. and Russia are particularly strained due to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military operation in Ukraine. Speaking to the press about his relationship with his Russian counterparts on the ISS amid the crisis, Mr. Vande Hei said that the atmosphere on the station remained positive despite the growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia. “About my relationship with my Russian crewmates, they were, are and will continue to be very dear friends of mine,” he said during a press conference. “We supported each other throughout everything. And I never had any concerns about my ability to continue working with them,” Mr. Vande Hei added.

What is Mark Vande Hei’s Army and NASA experience?

Prior to joining NASA, Mr. Vande Hai served in the U.S. Army and was commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). While in the Army, he served in various positions, including combat engineer platoon leader, heavy engineer platoon leader, and cold-weather-training officer. He served in Iraq as a combat engineer platoon leader during Operation Provide Comfort.

After finishing his Master of Science degree and a subsequent stint as an associate professor, Mr. Vande Hei reported to the Army’s 1st Space Battalion at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado in 2003. In Colorado, he first served as an Army space support team leader and was deployed to Iraq for twelve months as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Mr. Vande Hei’s tryst with NASA began in 2006 when he reported to the Johnson Space Centre in July 2006 to serve as a Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) in the Mission Control Centre, Houston. After serving as an ISS CAPCOM on a number of missions, Mr. Vande Hei was selected for NASA’s 20th astronaut class in 2009.

In 2017, Mr. Vande Hei was selected to be a part of an expedition to the ISS. He spent 168 days in space during his first space flight. In April 2021, the astronaut launched into space with two other cosmonauts of the Russian space agency for his second flight to the ISS. Mr. Vande Hei returned to the earth on March 30, setting the record for the longest single spaceflight by an American astronaut.

With all his spaceflights, Mr. Vande Hei has now spent a total of 523 days in space.

What all was achieved in 355 days in space?

During his spaceflight, Mr. Vande Hei completed around 5,680 orbits of the earth and travelled a distance equivalent to approximately 312 round trips to the moon. Fifteen spacecraft or modules visited the ISS during the astronaut’s time there.

Mr. Vande Hei’s spaceflight provided researchers with an opportunity to study the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. This is of significance since NASA is planning to send astronauts to the moon with its Artemis programme and is also preparing for human exploration of Mars.

The astronaut also participated in multiple scientific experiments on the ISS, including those on kidney health, fire safety, and muscle loss. He participated in a spacewalk as well to install new solar arrays outside the station.

What was the previous record?

Before Mr. Vande Hei’s achievement, astronaut Scott Kelly held the record for the longest single spaceflight by any American astronaut. Mr. Kelly spent 340 days in space and returned to the earth in 2016.

(With inputs from agencies)

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