ALMOST A YEAR IN SPACE
Two hundred and fifty miles above Earth weigh you down as you spend nearly a year away from family and friends.
“I’m happy to be back,” said Vande Hei. “If it had been 300 days, I would still have felt very good about the mission. It was not (for me) a record at all.”
Vande Hei landed a week ago. He spent 355 days in space. On Tuesday, he spoke to the media from the Johnson Space Center. He spoke of his mission filled with experiences, which continues today. NASA will be watching his body to see the impacts of space travel as the agency prepares to head into deep space.
“I was able to walk alone in eight hours, certainly staggering, but eight hours later,” recalls Vande Hei.
NASA ASTRONAUT RESPONDS TO WHAT IT WAS TO BE IN SPACE AS RUSSIAN SPACE LEADERS THREATEN TO ABANDON HIM
Most of Tuesday’s press conference was not devoted to what happened in space, but below. After the invasion of Ukraine, Russian space rulers threatened the United States’ relationship with the space station.
Vande Hei eventually returned to Earth on a Russian capsule, but that was in doubt after Russian leaders appeared to want to leave him in space.
SEE ALSO: American astronaut ends record-breaking spaceflight in Russian capsule
“Honestly, I heard about my wife’s tweets,” Vande Hei recalled. “I never perceived these tweets to be taken seriously.”
As the war continues, Russian space rulers continue to issue threats. So far, NASA has said it hasn’t ruined space relations.
Vande Hei hopes it will continue like this.
“The future of the space station and the conflict between Russia and the United States, honestly, I think that’s why we were able to have an international space station,” Vande Hei explained. “Some people who don’t care so much about space, international relations and having a space station where we can cooperate. I think it’s really for a peaceful future.”
WHAT HAPPENED WITH RUSSIAN COSMONAUTS WEARING UKRAINIAN COLORS WHILE BOARDING THE SPACE STATION?
Vande Hei was asked about the cosmonauts who traveled to the space station wearing blue and yellow suits in late March. These are the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
Vande Hei said the cosmonauts were “blindsided” by the reaction. He said they weren’t wearing the colors to make a political statement.
Cosmonauts went to the same school, whose colors are yellow and blue.
This was not the only topic of war in Ukraine that was discussed on the space station.
“It was not a subject that I avoided with my teammates,” recalls Vande Hei. “They weren’t very long discussions, but I asked them how they felt and sometimes asked pointed questions.”
Vande Hei wouldn’t go into details, but said he continues to be friends with the cosmonauts.
“Speaking specifically about my relationship with my Russian teammates, they were, are and will continue to be very good friends of mine,” Vande Hei said. “We supported each other through everything.”
‘GAUCAMOLE WAS INCREDIBLE’: AFTER 355 DAYS, VANDE HEI COULDN’T WAIT FOR THE COMFORT OF THE EARTH
Once on Earth, Vande Hei was eager to see his family, but also to taste some of his favorite dishes.
“Maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t eaten guacamole in 355 days, but this guacamole was amazing,” Vande Hei recalls. “It was really good.”
He may be back on Earth, but he’s not done with his recovery. Spending so much time in space takes its toll on the body, and Vande Hei says he has to do two hours of physiotherapy every day, including weekends. Doctors will also closely monitor his condition. He said it was worth it because he hopes what they learn will help future astronauts spend even more time in space than he did.
“I’m really looking forward to the next person doing something longer and going deeper and deeper and exploring more,” Vande Hei said. “I want it to be remembered as a stepping stone.”
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