Mark Vande Hei and the Russian Space Agency's Pyotr dubrov (who also spent the last year in space) landed in Soyuz capsules in Kazakhstan. After touchdown, wind blew the capsule on its side and the trio emerged in the afternoon sun.
Vande Hei was the last to be seen and he grinned as he was taken out onto a reclining seat in the Kazakh steppes.
Vande Hei said, "Beautiful here," while putting on a ballcap and a face mask.
Despite the escalating tensions that erupted between Russia and the U.S. over Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine, Vande Hei returned to Earth following normal procedures. A small NASA team, including doctors and other staff, was present for Vande Hei's touchdown. They planned to immediately return to Houston with the 55 year-old astronaut.
Vande Hei stated that he avoided the topic with his Russian crewmates even before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th. He said that despite their "fantastic" relationship, he was not sure they want to go there.
This was Vande Hei's first experience with gravity since the launch of their Soyuz Soyuz on April 9. Shkaplerov was with them at the orbiting laboratory in October and escorted a Russian film crew to the space station for a short stay. Vande Hei & Dubrov increased the duration of their stay to accommodate this visit.
Shkaplerov, before he left the space station, embraced his fellow astronauts and called them "my space brothers" and "my space sister".
"People have problems on Earth. Shkaplerov stated Tuesday in a NASA TV broadcast that orbit is one crew. The symbol of friendship and cooperation, and the... future of space exploration is the space station.
War tensions flared in other areas of space, with the suspensions of European satellite launches on Russian rockets as well as the European-Russia Mars Rover stuck on Earth for an additional two years.
NASA's record for longest single spaceflight was broken by Vande Hei, who beat it by 15 days. Dubrov was able to move into Russia's top 5, just short of the 17-hour marathon that took a cosmonaut and physicist aboard the 1990s Mir spacestation. This record is still the world record.
NASA's former space endurance champion Scott Kelly, who was on a 340-day mission that ended in 2016, stated, "Broken records means we're progressing."
Kelly and Vande Hei both underwent medical testing throughout their long stay. This was to help NASA's mission to send astronauts back to Mars. He stated that daily meditation helped him cope with the mission, which lasted twice as long than his four-year-old station stay.
In a series of NASA videos, Vande Hei stated that he had been working indoors for nearly a year and is looking forward to getting outside in all weather conditions. He's looking forward making a cup for Julie and himself, as well as enjoying guacamole, chips, and other food.
Three Russians arrived two weeks ago, and three Americans and one German have been aboard since November. SpaceX will send their replacements in three weeks. SpaceX will fly three wealthy businessmen and their ex astronaut next week to the station. This week's visit is organized by Axiom Space.
Elon Musk's SpaceX started transporting NASA astronauts from the station to 2020, nine years after the end of the shuttle program. Russia was the sole taxi company during that time, and NASA spent tens to millions of dollars for each Soyuz-sized seat. Vande Hei was riding in a barter deal with Houston-based Axiom.