American astronaut Scott Kelly returned to terra firma on Wednesday, completing a record 340 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The Soyuz space shuttle landed in Kazakhstan, where Mr. Kelly and two Russian cosmonauts, emerged and were met by a team of doctors, reporters, and NASA officials. He appeared in good spirits, offering a fist pump and thumbs up upon exiting.
"The air feels great out here," NASA spokesman at the scene, Rob Navias, quoted Kelly as saying. "I have no idea why you guys are all bundled up."
Kelly's safe trip home sets a new out-of-this world record for American astronauts, and he joins a long list of those who have contributed to NASA's ongoing mission to explore space.
Astronauts Daniel Bursch and Carl Walz broke NASA's six-month record in space aboard the Endeavor in 2002. They chose not to try for the longest space-endurance record, which is still held by Russia. During Russia's Mir space mission in the 1990s, four cosmonauts spent over a year in space each, and a Russian doctor, Valery Polyakov, lived in space for more than 15 months, reported Space.com.
Kelly's cosmonaut colleague Sergey Volkov also bests records for total space time, as Mr. Volkov has spent 548 days in space over three flights to Kelly's 520 days, the record for an American astronaut, according to NASA.
In total, the two men traveled 144 million miles through space, circled the world 5,440 times and experienced 10,880 orbital sunrises and sunsets.
Kelly posted one last batch of sunrise photos Tuesday on Twitter, before quipping, "I gotta go!" His final tweet from orbit came several hours later: "The journey isn't over. Follow me as I rediscover #Earth!"
Kelly's mission to live for one year in space, completed alongside Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, was to gather research needed for NASA's eventual mission to Mars. With current technology, a round-trip Mars voyage will entail two-and-a-half years in space.
NASA scientists have been taking careful note of changes in Kelly's health during the past year, and they hope to launch other year-long missions to the ISS to continue the research on how long-term space travel affects the human body.
“Scott has become the first American astronaut to spend a year in space, and in so doing, helped us take one giant leap toward putting boots on Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a NASA release.
This report contains material from The Associated Press.