Minnesota native returns to Earth following record-setting trip on ISS

As Minnesotans woke up Thursday morning, Mark Vande Hei – an astronaut and Minnesota native – returned to Earth after his record setting journey on board the International Space Station.

Vande Hei landed in Kazakhstan around 6:30 a.m. Thursday CT with two Russian cosmonauts, after some worried about his safe return. He will now travel to NASA headquarters in Houston.

The Associated Press reports a small NASA team of doctors and other staff was on hand for the touchdown, and planned to immediately return to the United States with the 55-year-old.

Despite the differences on the ground between the two countries, Vande Hei and the two cosmonauts came together in space as colleagues for their safe trip home.

Just before midnight, Vande Hei – who grew up in the Twin Cities – boarded Russia’s Soyuz Spaceship to land in Kazakhstan, beginning his long-awaited homecoming after spending a U.S. record of 355 days in space.

He spoke on the accomplishment last week.

“Really, the important thing was recognizing I had to stay focused on what I was doing at the moment. One more thing – trying to look for things to be grateful for as opposed to griping. That goes a long way to make whatever you’re doing more palatable,” said Vande Hei.

Earlier this month, the head of the Russian Space Agency posted on social media, threatening to abandon Vande Hei on the space station as tensions rose due to the war in Ukraine.

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Those tensions weren’t seen onboard the ISS more than 200 miles above Earth – instead, there was a show of unity as the group departed.

During the traditional Change of Command ceremony, the Russian commander on the space station said “people have problems on earth, in orbit, we are one crew.”

Then, the Russian cosmonaut and the American astronaut hugged as the symbolic space-station key was handed over to the new commander.

University of Minnesota Bell Museum planetarium manager Sally Brummel believes the relationship between the United States and Russia in space will continue.

“The International Space Station is a collaboration of a dozen countries,”  Brummel said. “I have faith it will continue despite the challenges we’re having right now.”

A top Russian official is expected to discuss any potential future Russian-American space flights sometime Thursday.

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