US astronaut Mark Vande Hei comments on record-setting spaceflight

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei has returned after a record 355-day mission at the International Space Station, marking the longest space flight ever by an American astronaut.

Vande Hei, who was raised in Minnesota and went to St. John’s University, spoke with journalists Tuesday after landing in Kazakhstan on March 30. He deflected praise for the record he set, calling it a record for the whole team because this type of long-duration flight "is something we need to do to help further our ability to explore further and further away from our home planet earth."

During his time at the space station, Vande Hei said there were 60 to 100 experiments going on at any given moment. And he noted his body is part of the experiment, with scientists gathering data from him in the years to come. 

When he landed back on earth, he was able to walk on his own after about eight hours, he said, though he was "certainly wobbly." He credited following NASA’s exercise protocols with helping him stay healthy, and though he has some aches and pains, he’s looking forward to getting those resolved. Vande Hei will spend a couple of hours a day in physical therapy now that he’s back on earth. 

Meanwhile, Vande Hei commented on being at the International Space Station when Russia invaded Ukraine. Throughout his time in space, he said his relationship between Russian astronauts remained positive. And despite escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine, his return to Earth followed customary procedures — there were fears Russia would leave Vande Hei in space, but he said he wasn’t concerned. 

"I never perceived those tweets as anything to take seriously as far as – I just had too much confidence in our cooperation to date to take those tweets as anything but something that was meant for a different audience than myself," Vande Hei said. 

While Vande Hei said he and his crewmates did discuss the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, their focus remained on their mission together and he and his crewmates continue to be good friends.