A NASA astronaut will finally fly home in just hours after Russia threatened to abandon him in space.
Mark Vande Hei, 55, is due to return from the International Space Station on March 29 and 30 onboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Vande Hei and two Russian cosmonauts, Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, are due to return to earth on Wednesday, March 30.
The three cosmonauts have been stationed aboard the International Space Station (ISS), which orbits roughly 250 miles above Earth.
Nasa has said it will offer live coverage of the crew’s farewells, undocking, and landing from the ISS on NASA TV.
The farewell and hatch closure will go live on Tuesday, March 29 at 11.30pm ET (04.30am UK time). The undocking can be viewed at 02.45am ET (7.45am UK time), and lastly, the deorbit burn and landing will be live-streamed at 6.15am ET (11.15am UK time).
Read our ISS return mission live blog for the latest news and updates…
Kayla Barron saying her goodbyes
Barron will be returning home in April after wrapping up her own mission.
Soon, the astronauts will say a final farewell to each other.
ISS flying 260 miles
The ISS currently flying about 268 statute miles over Brazilia, Brazil.
Shkaplerov will conduct a separation to move the Soyuz about 70 meters away from the station.
US astronaut duration record holders
During the live stream, Nasa displayed a list of the durations of astronauts in space. The list includes:
- Peggy Whitson – 665 days
- Jeff Williams – 534 days
- Mark Vande Hei – 523 days
- Scott Kelly – 520 days
- Mike Fincke – 381 days
- Mike Foale 374 days
- Don Petit 370 days
- Christina Koch – 328 days
- Suni Williams – 322 days
- Joe Acaba – 306 days
Vande Hei’s final aircraft duties
Cleaning up his space for the next astronaut, tossing away unnecessary belongings, and communicating with friends and family about plans back on the ground were among his final tasks.
Shkaplerov’s time on board
At the time of landing, he will have totaled 708 days in space, making him seventh on the all-time endurance list, according to the live stream
Vande Hei’s 355-day stay in space is the longest by an American in a single voyage.
Scott Kelly established the previous record of 340 days six years ago.
What will happen after midnight, continued
The astronauts will relax for a bit in tents after undergoing basic medical tests before proceeding by helicopter to the airport, where Vande Hei and his Nasa colleagues will board a Gulfstream aircraft and take off.
What will happen after midnight
The Soyuz will detach from the Rassvet module and land parachute-assisted in Kazakhstan’s steppes, southeast of the isolated town of Dzhezkazgan, on March 30.
There will be a search and recovery team for the Soyuz landings in Kazakhstan to retrieve the crew.
Moments of solitude for Vande Hei
“In a way, I’ve been fortunate,” said Vande Hei. “Compared to what we’ve had to deal with on the ground, I certainly feel like it hasn’t been a tougher situation in terms of dealing with loneliness and our crew has done a fantastic job of being able to talk to our family on the ground.”
Vande Hei’s high points
He said: “My favorite moments were the times when I was just hanging around during mealtime with my crewmates and we were laughing so hard about some comments that we made.”
Vande Hei on mental health on board
Vande Hei said about his time on the ISS: “You’ve got to remain connected to the people that you’ve got back on the ground.”
The Soyuz MS-19 crew will split up after landing, with Vande Hei going to his home in Houston and the cosmonauts flying back to their training center in Star City, Russia.
At the following times, Nasa TV, the agency’s website, and the NASA app will broadcast live coverage of the crew’s farewells, undocking, and landing:
- 11.30pm Tuesday, March 29 – Farewells and hatch closure
- 2.45am Wednesday, March 30 – Undocking
- 6.15am Wednesday, March 30 – Deorbit burn and landing
Soyuz placed on auto
As the first step to return home, the Soyuz was placed on automated power, according to the live stream.
355 day mission
5,681 orbits of the Earth later, Mark Vande Hei and Pyotr Dubrov will be returning to the Earth.
When did the ISS start orbiting Earth?
It launched on November 20, 1998 – 23 years ago.
What do astronauts drink on the ISS, continued
That space toilet was launched off the coast of Virginia in early October on a rocket that headed to the International Space Station that can help astronauts reserve some water.
However, because of the strong acids used in the toilet, there is only a handful of metals that can withstand them over time.
Although titanium is one of those metals, it’s fairly expensive. So Nasa went with a 3D printed technique to make titanium parts lighter than usual.
Aerospace engineer Jim Fuller once joked: “When the astronauts have to go, we want to allow them to boldly go.”
And this isn’t the first time that astronauts have been drinking their urine.
They’ve been consuming the beverage on the ISS since 2009, but the recent addition of the toilet makes it that much more efficient and comfortable.
What do astronauts drink on the ISS?
There’s only so much water that can be taken aboard the ISS.
Every liquid, from urine to sweat, must be saved and turned into water.
“When it comes to our urine … today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee!” Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir said in a previous press release.
Nasa has spent $23 million on a space toilet that uses extremely powerful acids to treat astronaut urine to make it clean.
Vande Hei’s Expedition 64/65/67, continued
With 353 days in space, Vande Hei would set a new record for the longest mission by an American astronaut.
Hei and Dubrov completed 273 days aboard the International Space Station on January 6, 2022, breaking Andrew R. Morgan’s previous record of 272 days.
He surpassed Scott Kelly as the record holder for the longest American spaceflight shortly before his return to Earth, having spent 340 days in space.
Vande Hei’s Expedition 64/65/67
Vande Hei’s second space voyage, as a flight engineer on board Soyuz MS-18 and as part of ISS Expedition 64/65, was confirmed in March 2021.
Vande Hei, together with Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov, launched onboard Soyuz MS-18 at 3.42am EDT on April 9, 2021.
Vande Hei and Pyotr Dubrov’s six-month assignments to the station were extended for another six months on September 14, 2021.
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