Astronaut from Minnesota set to blast off for second mission to International Space Station

Mark Vande Hei is set to return to the International Space Station next month as part of his second mission to space. (NASA)

A Minnesota native is set to make his second trip to space next month with to Russian astronauts headed to the International Space Station.

Mark Vande Hei, a graduate of Benilde-St. Margaret's and St. John's University, last blasted off three years ago, spending six months on the ISS that time around.

For his parents, Tom and Mary Vande Hei, who still live in Chanhassen, Minnesota, it's been more than a year since they have seen their son in-person because of COVID-19. But soon, it could be just as long until they are on the same planet as their oldest boy.

NASA says Mark Vande Hei will blast off for the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in early April. The agency says Vande Hei will spend up to a year in space working on hundreds of experiments to benefit life on earth, including studies on cotton root systems, Alzheimer's disease, and a demonstration of a portable ultrasound.

"I think the last time it was like a fantasy, he was going up," said Tom. "But this time it's reality. He's really looking forward to it."

Unlike last time, Vande Hei's family won't be able to travel to the former Soviet Republic to watch the launch because of COVID-19 restrictions. Even though he'll miss his dad's 80th birthday and his sister's wedding, his parents say his second trip into orbit won't be as nerve-wracking as his first.

"I don't think I'm going to be as afraid," said Mary.

"He got back home safely the last time," added Tom. "There was always that I hope everything goes well kind of thing. Now, it's pretty routine."

During his last NASA mission, Vande Hei brought along a paper crane in memory of his uncle who died shortly before his trip through the stratosphere.

But his parents say the only souvenir they're looking for this time around is the chance to embrace their son like they have his interstellar adventures. "There's just a lot of unknowns and hopefully we'll stay healthy enough to hug him again," said Mary.