If NASA had asked astronaut Frank Rubio well in advance if he would like to spend an entire year aboard the International Space Station, he probably would have refused. But that’s how things turned out anyway, when problems with his crew’s Soyuz ferry forced them to extend their stay from six months to 12 months.
“If they would have asked me up front before training, why do you train for a year or two years for your mission, I probably would have refused,” Rubio told reporters Tuesday, eight days before he and his two comrades from the Soyuz crew planned to return aboard. Earth. “It would have hurt, but I would have refused.
“And that’s just because of family, things that happened last year,” he said of his wife and four children. “If I had known I would have to miss those very important events, I should have just said thank you, but no, thank you.”
But once training began for what was supposed to be a six-month flight, he committed and calmly accepted the mission extension “because ultimately this is our job.”
“We have to complete the mission,” he said. “Have the International Space Station [permanently occupied] for 23 years requires many individual and family sacrifices. But sometimes that’s what you have to do.”
This is nothing new for Rubio, a West Point graduate, UH-60 Blackhawk combat helicopter pilot, flight surgeon and family doctor. Among the family milestones he missed during his extended deployment: a daughter finished her freshman year at the U.S. Naval Academy and a son began his freshman year at West Point.
Rubio and his two Soyuz crewmates – Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin – launched to the space station on September 21 aboard the Soyuz MS-22/68S ferry, kicking off a planned six-month stay, the standard duration for long duration flights. station crews.
But their docked, sleeper Soyuz was hit by a suspected micrometeoroid last December, rupturing a critical coolant line. After several weeks of analysis, Russian engineers decided that the safest course of action was to launch a replacement spacecraft, forcing Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio to extend their stay another six months.
“When it finally became real that I would have to stay for a whole year [it] it was difficult, even though that decision really took a couple of months,” Rubio said. “And so basically, we knew the situation, we were dealing with it, we were looking for options. And so, even though it’s been difficult, honestly… my family and I have come to terms with it.”
Rubio, Prokopyev and Petelin plan to dock with their replacement Soyuz MS-23/69S spacecraft and undock from the space station next Wednesday. If all goes well, they will land on the Kazakh steppe around 7:14 a.m. EDT (5:14 p.m. local time) to cap a 371-day mission, the third-longest flight in space history and the longest ever for a period. American astronaut.
After initial medical checks and phone calls home to family, Rubio will board a NASA jet for the flight back to Houston while Prokopyev and Petelin head to Star City near Moscow.
Asked what he was most looking forward to once he returned to Earth, Rubio said that “hugging my wife and my kids will be key. And I’ll probably focus on that for the first couple of days.”
“We’re lucky enough to have kind of a quiet backyard,” he added. “And I think going out into the garden and enjoying the trees and the silence. Up here we hear the constant hum of the machinery… So I’m looking forward to being outside and enjoying the peace and quiet.”
As for readjusting to gravity after a year in weightlessness, Rubio said it will likely take several months to regain his Earthly legs and the normal sense of balance provided by his vestibular system. But since this is his first spaceflight, and a year-long stay, he’s not quite sure what to expect.
“When you come back to Earth…that constant force of gravity hits a lot of us pretty hard, and you might end up spending a lot of time feeling sick,” he said. “So your vestibular system is probably the most affected.
“And then it takes a couple of months to get our strength back. Our coaches do a great job of keeping us in shape up here. But the reality is we’re not standing, we’re not walking, we’re not carrying our own weight. And so it just takes a little bit of time to get your bones and your muscles used to doing that consistently on Earth. It’s going to take two to six months before I essentially say I feel normal.
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