USU Graduate Astronaut Frank Rubio Returns to Earth After Historic Space Mission

U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) Frank Rubio has set a historic record by returning to Earth after spending 371 days in space, the longest continuous stay by an American astronaut, conducting valuable experiments and research during his extended mission on the International Space Station.

USU alumnus Lt. Col. (Dr.) Frank Rubio set an unprecedented record for American space travel.  (Photo courtesy of NASA)
USU alumnus Lt. Col. (Dr.) Frank Rubio set an unprecedented record for American space travel.
 (Photo courtesy of NASA)

September 27, 2023 by Sharon Holland

In an incredible moment for space exploration and human endurance, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) Frank Rubio has returned to Earth after spending 371 days in space – an unprecedented record for an American. Rubio, a NASA astronaut and Uniformed Services University (USU) class of 2010 alumnus, touched down near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan at 7:17  a.m. EST, Wednesday, September 27th, marking a historic achievement for American space travel.

Rubio's mission aboard the International Space Station made him the American astronaut with the longest continuous stay in space. His mission, Expedition 67, was the third-longest spaceflight in history.  

“Frank’s record-breaking time in space is not just a milestone; it’s a major contribution to our understanding of long-duration space missions,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Our astronauts make extraordinary sacrifices away from their homes and loved ones to further discovery. NASA is immensely grateful for Frank’s dedicated service to our nation and the invaluable scientific contributions he made on the International Space Station. He embodies the true pioneer spirit that will pave the way for future exploration to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.”

Rubio launched into space on USU’s 50th Anniversary – Sept. 21, 2022.  He was slated to return to Earth in early Spring following a six-month stint on the Space Station. However, on Dec. 14, 2022, ground teams discovered a significant coolant leak in the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft docked to one of the modules on the Space Station.  Rubio and cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin traveled into space on board the Soyuz MS-22.  Engineers deemed the Soyuz MS-22 not to be viable for a normal crew return, although they believed it could be used in the event of an emergency aboard the Space Station. Instead, the spacecraft was replaced by an unmanned Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft sent up in  February, 2023.  

The extra time on the Space Station provided Rubio with an opportunity to conduct a wide range of experiments, including one conducted in collaboration with USU’s Center for Biotechnology and Redwire, Corp., during which Rubio and his colleagues successfully printed a human knee meniscus using a 3D biofabrication facility and live human cells. 

Another research highlight for Rubio was his involvement in studying the effects of space travel on the cardiovascular system, which has implications for both future space exploration and the treatment of cardiovascular diseases on Earth. His work in this area has the potential to benefit both astronauts and the general population. 

In November 2022, Rubio participated in a live Q&A session from the Space Station with USU students, staff and faculty, along with fellow astronaut Marine Corps Col. Nicole Mann. One question Rubio answered addressed the physical challenges astronauts face in space.  

“The reality is that this is the most challenging part of space exploration because of the effects that this environment has on our bodies,” Rubio added.

NASA takes extensive measures to mitigate these effects, including exercise routines, dietary plans, and monitoring astronauts' health closely throughout their missions. After returning to Earth, astronauts undergo a period of readjustment and rehabilitation to help their bodies recover from the physiological changes experienced in space. It’s possible that it could take several months before Rubio is able to bear weight, stand or walk.  

Rubio's journey in space has left an indelible mark on the history of space exploration, and his legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.

“Of course it’s amazing to be in space,’ Rubio said, “but more than anything, you feel very proud to do things that will help all humanity.”