A NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts returned to Earth on Wednesday after being stuck in space for just over a year.
The trio parachuted down in a remote area of Kazakhstan, from a rescue ship, after their original ride home was hit by space junk.
What should have been a 180-day mission turned into a 371-day stay in space.
The Soyuz capsule that brought American astronaut Frank Rubio and cosmonauts – the Russian equivalent – Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin back was a replacement launched in February.
Russian engineers suspect a piece of space junk pierced the radiator of their original capsule late last year, midway through what should have been a six-month mission.
Engineers worried that without cooling, the capsule’s electronics and any occupants could overheat to dangerous levels, so the craft returned empty.
There was not another Soyuz rescue ship to launch a fresh crew until this month.
Their replacements finally arrived nearly two weeks ago.
“No one deserves to go home to their families more than you,” the space station’s new commander, Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen, said earlier this week.
Prokopyev told ground controllers throughout the descent that all three were feeling good.
They experienced more than four times the force of gravity as their capsule streaked through the atmosphere and came to a touchdown in the barren Kazakh steppes, ending up on its side.
Helicopters moved in with recovery crews to fetch the astronauts.
“It’s good to be home,” Rubio said after being pulled from the capsule.
Rubio, an army doctor and helicopter pilot, now holds the record for the longest US spaceflight.
He may hold on to this record for a while as NASA currently has no plans for more yearlong missions.
The 47-year-old spent more than two weeks longer in space than Mark Vande Hei, who held NASA’s previous endurance record.
Russia holds the world record of 437 days, set in the mid-1990s.
Rubio said at a news conference last week that he never would have agreed to a full year in space if asked at the outset.
He ended up missing important family milestones including the oldest of his four children finishing her first year at the US Naval Academy and another heading off to West Point, the United States Military Academy.
Rubio had said the psychological aspect of spending so long in space was tougher than he expected.
It was the first spaceflight for Rubio and Petelin, 40, an engineer. Prokopyev, 48, an engineer and pilot, has now pulled two long station stints.
They logged 157 million miles since launching from Kazakhstan last September and circled the world nearly 6,000 times.
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