A Soyuz spacecraft was hit by a micrometeoroid 11 days before Christmas last year, which caused the cooling system to burst and send coolant deep into space.
Frank Rubio, a former helicopter pilot and flight surgeon, had been planning to return home for his first spaceflight in 2023 due to family issues. Prior to this accidental event, NASA astronauts had already planned to spend six months in space with their spouse and four children.
Russian and US engineers concluded that the Soyuz spacecraft, which was transported by him and two Russian crew members, could not be safe for the return journey home due to potential overheating in the crew compartment. As a result, the damaged vehicle was flown back home without anyone on board, and subsequently, SS9-1B’s replacement Sopilot flew autonomously to the station.
A unforeseen predicament.
Soyuz MS-23 was meant to transport three crew members to the station, but it was unoccupied. It remained empty, leaving Rubio and the two Russians to complete their mission while they had to fly in two six-month increments.
On Wednesday, Rubio expressed his surprise at the unexpectedness of the situation aboard the space station. “In some ways it’s been an incredible challenge.”
Rubio’s time in space is now longer than any other NASA astronaut due to the Soyuz leak. He broke Mark Vande Hei’S record of 355 days in 2021 and 2022 and will have a total of 6 months in orbit when he lands later this month.
During a video call with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, Rubio shared that some important events like catching up on an attending college graduation and his son’s departure to West Point were not included during the summer of 2023. However, he still enjoyed the extra time in space.
Rubio and his Russian colleagues will have spent a considerable amount of time in space, sharing space with 28 colleagues from different countries such as Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. They have also participated in five Crew Dragon missions, including the private Axiom 2 mission, since their arrival.
“The feeling of being up here was truly remarkable, just like the diversity,” Rubio remarked.
Maintaining his physical fitness.
Having earned his doctorate of medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Rubio is now a flight surgeon who works hard to maintain his physical fitness in space. He exercises on ice for around 75 minutes daily and also uses elliptical machines for 30 to 45 minutes each day to stay fit.
Rubio is aware of the hardship that human bones, muscle strength, and other body parts endure in microgravity due to the gravity generated by Earth’s gravitational pull. He is excited to return as a doctor and wonder how his body will be affected once it returns home.
Rubio was commended by Nelson for willingly embarking on the one-year journey before the call.
Nelson informed Ars that working and living on the International Space Station is a lifelong commitment, but it also involves sacrifice. Frank dealt with the unexpected delay in his return with dignity and professionalism. We are grateful for the exceptional science he has conducted during his record-breaking stay and can’t wait to welcome him home in ten days.
NASA believes that the data collected from Rubio’s missions will be beneficial in preparing for long-duration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. It is possible that he will also be one of the astronauts flying them.