NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei can't wait to see his wife after landing back on Earth after a record-breaking 355-day space mission.
Early this morning (March 30), Vande Hei landed safely aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule in the grasslands of Kazakhstan together with his Russian colleagues Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov. The trio appeared to have arrived in good health and, after a record-breaking 355 days in space, Vande Hei will finally get to see his wife and family in person again, something he shared his excitement for just before leaving the station.
Vande Hei said he had "enthusiasm for the opportunities back on Earth to see my family to be present physically with my wife, where... I haven't been in her vicinity since January of last year. So that'll be wonderful," he said during a video broadcast from the International Space Station yesterday (March 29).
But the space-farer also admitted that the return to Earth was "bittersweet" as it marked the end of his active astronaut career.
"I'm sure I'll have lots of conflicting emotions," he said before the flight to Earth. "I promised my wife I will not be flying to space again, so that will be bittersweet," he said, adding that still "I'm very, very grateful to have had this amazing opportunity to come up to the space station here with such wonderful people who I consider friends for the rest of my life; to serve my country and all of humanity."
Vande Hei shared both his "gratitude" as well as "a little bit of sadness too, because I'll be shutting the door and I won't be able to come back. And this is a very, very special place."
After the crew's arrival in Kazakhstan today, they were carried to a medical tent and then flown by helicopter to Karaganda. From there, Vande Hei was set to fly to Houston, Texas, aboard a NASA jet. Once home, he will likely continue to recuperate from his 355 consecutive days in space, the longest single spaceflight ever made by an American astronaut. This beat NASA astronaut Scott Kelly's previous record of 340 days.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris shared her congratulations for Vande Hei on the historic, record-breaking feat shortly after his landing, writing online: "Congratulations on your historic journey and 355 days in space. Welcome home, @Astro_Sabot"
Congratulations on your historic journey and 355 days in space. Welcome home, @Astro_Sabot!March 30, 2022
"Fantastic place, occupied by amazing people, working for all of humanity. I’ll forever cherish the memories of serving on the International Space Station. Now, though, I’m thrilled to be back on Mother Earth!" Vande Hei tweeted shortly after his arrival back on his home planet.
Prior to Vande Hei's arrival back on Earth, there was speculation that, seeing as the U.S. has condemned Russia's actions to invade Ukraine and ignite a war, Vande Hei might not fly home aboard a Soyuz capsule with cosmonauts. However, today is has been seen that Vande Hei's planned return, remaining unchanged, has gone forth safely and successfully.