SEPTEMBER 27, 2023 – Record-breaking U.S. Army astronaut is finally back on Earth.
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Frank C. Rubio returned to Earth, Sept. 27, aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, along with cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin of Roscosmos, after logging a record 371 days on the International Space Station. He beat the previous 355-day record set in 2022 by U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei, a retired U.S. Army colonel.
“I don’t know that this mission changed me, but it definitely provided another tremendous, and unique, opportunity to learn and grow as a leader,” Rubio said. “The experience reinforced some key points that I’ve learned throughout my career in the Army, and I was blessed to have amazing teammates, both on the ISS and on the ground, who made this experience a huge success.
“Teamwork, initiative, flexibility, and resilience were key to success,” he added. “Most often, my main role as the leader of the U.S. Orbital Segment was to get out of people’s way and allow their talent to shine through.”
Rubio, serving as a flight engineer for Expeditions 68 and 69, participated in or helped facilitate numerous research investigations and technology demonstrations not possible on Earth. Among these included: deploying CubeSats; tended to orbital tomatoes; conducted combustion experiments; worked on science hardware supporting different space biology experiments; used interfaces and virtual reality to command and control surface-bound robots from long distances; conducted three space walks; and numerous other experiments.
“The best part was by far the people,” Rubio said. “By the time we undock, I will have spent time in space with 28 other crewmates. That’s almost 5% of the people who have ever been to space. Every one of them has provided special memories and they were a blessing to me in one way or another.
“We are also supported by an incredible flight control team with branches located throughout the world, and this mission could not happen without their tireless and vigilant effort,” he added.
Rubio said his least favorite part has been missing time with my family.
“I’m extremely excited to see my family, and reconnecting with them is what I am most looking forward to,” Rubio said. “I also look forward to taking a quiet walk in the mountains or in the woods as soon as I can. There is a constant hum of the life support systems onboard, so I literally haven’t had a moment of silence in over a year.
“I also haven’t seen any greenery or nature other than a few small plant experiments we’ve conducted, so I’m excited to get back out there and enjoy nature,” he added.
The U.S. Army’s involvement in the nation’s space program dates back to the 1958 launch of Explorer 1, America’s first satellite, and it was a modified U.S. Army rocket that carried the first U.S. astronaut into space in 1961. Through the years, 18 Army astronauts and one payload specialist have been selected by NASA, with Rubio being the 18th to fly into space.
“We proudly watched as Army Astronaut Frank Rubio returned to Earth after a record-breaking year aboard the International Space Station,” said Lt. Gen. Daniel L. Karbler, commanding general of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. “Frank continues the U.S. Army’s legacy of excellence in support of the nation’s space program. I am immensely proud of all he has done during the past year as he represented the Army and the nation aboard the ISS. Welcome home and well done.”
The USASMDC NASA Detachment provides support to NASA with Army astronauts and space operations officers detailed to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. They deliver expertise and leadership to NASA’s human space flight programs, low-earth orbit spaceflight and deep space exploration initiatives.
Story by Jason Cutshaw
U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command