Science

Astronaut Ready for Silence After Record-Setting Full Year in Space

After a year spent listening to the constant hum of the complicated machinery that keeps the International Space Station livable, the astronaut Frank Rubio is looking forward to some silence on Earth.

Mr. Rubio is scheduled to return to land next week after a 371-day mission, the longest single spaceflight for an American astronaut.

On Sept. 11, he surpassed the previous record for the longest continuous spaceflight by an American, and he will complete a full year in space on Thursday. At a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Rubio spoke on video from the International Space Station about what he was most looking forward to when he returns home on Sept. 27: his family, fresh food and silence.

“For me, honestly, obviously, hugging my wife and kids is going to be paramount, and I’ll probably focus on that for the first couple days,” Mr. Rubio said as he bobbed gently in zero gravity.

He said he was also looking forward to being back in his quiet backyard and “enjoying the trees and the silence.”

His return home will be even sweeter because when Mr. Rubio launched on the Russian Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan last September, he expected to be back home in six months, not a year.

Those plans changed after a coolant leak in the Soyuz spacecraft was detected in December. The leak could have created potentially fatally hot temperatures for the crew on their return to Earth, so a different spacecraft was sent to the space station, forcing a delay in Mr. Rubio’s return trip.

Mr. Rubio said that if he had been asked to do a yearlong mission before training began, he would have declined because of his family. But, he said, if NASA had asked him to do a such a trip deeper into his two years of training, he would have agreed because it was his job.

He acknowledged that a year in space, away from loved ones, had taken a psychological toll and said it was important to stay strong mentally because of the space station’s “very unforgiving environment.”

“One thing that I’ve tried to do, and hopefully have achieved — I certainly haven’t done it perfectly — is just to kind of stay positive and stay steady throughout the mission despite the internal up and downs,” Mr. Rubio said. “You try to just focus on the job and on the mission and remain steady, because ultimately every day you have to show up and do the work.”

Before Mr. Rubio’s mission, Mark Vande Hei, who returned to Earth in March 2022 after 355 days aboard the International Space Station, held the record for the longest continuous spaceflight by an American. Dr. Valery Polyakov, a Russian astronaut who died last year, holds the world record for consecutive days spent in space: 437.

Aboard the space station, Mr. Rubio worked on a number of science projects, including investigations into how bacteria adapt to spaceflight and how exercise affects humans during long missions.

In an earlier interview with NASA, Mr. Rubio said that one of his favorite projects was studying a tomato plant to see how air and water-based growing techniques affect plants. The research could help find ways to grow crops on a larger scale in space.

“I love working with that little plant and seeing it grow and develop,” he said.

In the news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Rubio spoke about the camaraderie on board the space station. During his time there, he has had 28 crewmates, including his friend Loral O’Hara, a fellow NASA astronaut who arrived at the space station last week.

Mr. Rubio said that when people first arrive at the space station, those already aboard help teach them basic tasks, such as how to use the restroom, how to prepare food and how to sleep.

“All the little things you kind of take for granted on Earth, you kind of have to learn anew up here,” Mr. Rubio said.

Before joining the space program, Mr. Rubio served in the U.S. Army and attended medical school. He flew more than 1,100 hours as a helicopter pilot, which included deployments to Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. He was born in Los Angeles, but considers Miami his hometown.

On his first day in space, Mr. Rubio said that he felt sick as his body acclimated to life in zero gravity. Now, he is preparing for his muscles and bones to get used to standing and bearing weight again. He estimated that it would be two to six months before he felt normal.

“This being my first mission,” he said, “I just don’t know how my body is going to react.”

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