What NASA Astronaut Mark Vande Hei Did in Space As 355-Day Mission Ends

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei has safely returned to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) after breaking the record for the single longest spaceflight by a NASA astronaut.

Vande Hei touched down in Kazakhstan at 7:28 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning along with Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov after making a parachute-assisted descent.

The Russian Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) at 3:21 a.m. on Wednesday. Around three hours later the spacecraft fired its engines in a deorbit burn that slowed it down in preparation for re-entry to Earth's atmosphere.

Shortly after landing, Vande Hei was seen talking on a phone as he was transported into a temporary medical tent for routine evaluation.

Vande Hei had spent nearly a year in space—355 days in total—along with Dubrov. Both of their six month stays aboard the ISS had been extended by another six months last year.

The lengthy stay surpasses the previous NASA record for the longest single spaceflight, which was 340 days, held by former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

Vande Hei's return had been subject to speculation in recent weeks amid fears that Russia could refuse to return him to Earth because of tensions with the U.S. over the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, in a statement to Newsweek earlier this month, NASA said it was continuing cooperation with Russia to safely transport crew members to and from the ISS and that Vande Hei would be returning.

Mark Vande Hei
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei pictured at the Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City outside of Moscow in August, 2017. Vande Hei returned to Earth on March 30th after spending nearly a year in space. STR/AFP/Getty

What did Mark Vande Hei do on the International Space Station?

In his time on the ISS, Vande Hei orbited the Earth around 5,680 times and traveled more than 150 million miles. He also saw 13 different spacecraft arrive at the station, including SpaceX's Dragon and Russia's Soyuz capsules.

While on board, Vande Hei took part in various scientific experiments including one that investigated muscle loss in space using engineered tissues and another that tested how the human immune system functions in microgravity.

He installed an experiment platform that would allow astronauts to place materials like concrete, seeds, and microbes outside of the space station, exposing them to the harsh vacuum of space to see what would happen. He also participated in the harvest of chili peppers in space, too, as part of tests of growth and watering systems that allow astronauts to grow plants in microgravity.

Vande Hei also installed fire ignition and extinction hardware in preparation for fire safety experiments aboard the station. Such experiments could help determine the best methods for extinguishing fires in space and identify safer materials for future space facilities.