ALMATY (Reuters) -U.S. astronaut Frank Rubio, who broke the record for the longest continuous space flight by an American, and two Russian cosmonauts landed in the steppe of Kazakhstan on Wednesday after more than a year on the International Space Station (ISS).
Their Soyuz MS-23 capsule undocked from the ISS a minute earlier than scheduled, and took around three and a half hours to make it down to Earth, landing southeast of the city of Zhezqazghan.
“It’s good to be home,” Rubio, 47, said with a smile after landing with Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev, 48, and Dmitry Petelin, 40.
Asked how his crew mates had been, Rubio said: “Fantastic, yeah, everybody did really well.”
Rubio was given a Russian matryoshka doll while Prokopyev was shown smiling beside the capsule and holding an watermelon which he requested on landing. When asked what he had brought back from space, he said: “A good mood”.
Russian mission control at Star City outside Moscow said the crew felt fine after just over a year on the ISS. They landed on time at 1117 GMT.
Rubio, who is on his first space voyage, was shown being carried out of the capsule, which was darkened by the temperatures of reentry. He gave a thumbs up and waved as Russian and U.S. space officials took his blood pressure and heart rate and covered him with a blanket.
The three men are six months late to return because their original spacecraft sprang a leak so a replacement had to be sent up to get them back. That gave them an unexpectedly extended mission of 371 days in orbit.
On Sept. 11, Rubio surpassed the previous NASA record of 355 consecutive days in space set by now-retired U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Rubio is also the first American to spend a full year in space.
Though Rubio broke the American record, he and his Russian colleagues are far from the world record held by Russia’s Valeri Polyakov, who spent 437 consecutive days and 18 hours during a Mir space station mission between January 1994 and March 1995. Polyakov died last September aged 80.
Roscosmos said that Prokopyev had spent a total of more than 567 days in space, including previous trips.
Rubio, the son of Salvadoran parents who was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Miami, is a board-certified family physician and flight surgeon, a onetime U.S. Army special forces officer and a decorated Blackhawk helicopter pilot who flew combat missions in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Speaking to reporters from orbit eight days before his return to Earth, Rubio said he probably would have turned down what became his first spaceflight had he known in advance that the mission would go on for at least a year.
Rubio, who is married with four children, cited family obligations, but in the end he said he felt honored and took the extension of the mission in stride.
He said it would likely take months to regain his full sense of balance and strength after a prolonged stay in microgravity, and that he looks forward to the quiet of his backyard, compared with the constant drone and hum of machinery while aboard the ISS.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, Gareth Jones and Philippa Fletcher)