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Mark Vande Hei, a NASA astronaut, made history with a 355-day mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut. He surpassed the previous record of 340 days set by Scott Kelly. This mission was crucial for understanding the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body, particularly in preparation for future missions to the Moon and Mars.

During his time on the ISS, Vande Hei engaged in numerous scientific activities, contributing significantly to various research areas. Some key projects included:

  • Studying Muscle Loss: Vande Hei collected microscopic images of cell cultures for the Cardinal Muscle investigation, which focused on understanding muscle loss in space, a condition similar to sarcopenia on Earth. This research aimed to develop models for studying muscle loss and testing potential treatments.

  • Immune Response in Space: He worked on the Celestial Immunity investigation, which studied the human immune response in microgravity. This research could aid in developing new vaccines and drugs for human diseases.

  • Exposing Experiments to Space Environment: Collaborating with ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, Vande Hei installed an experiment platform outside the ISS for various studies, including the effects of space exposure on materials like seeds, concrete, and solar cells.

  • Fire Safety Experiments: He installed hardware for the Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction (SoFIE) experiments to understand fire behaviour in microgravity. These experiments could inform fire suppression techniques and material selection for future space habitats.

  • Astronaut Health Monitoring: Regular health checks, including detailed retina exams using optical coherence tomography, were part of his routine to ensure the crew’s health.

  • Space Agriculture: Vande Hei participated in growing chili peppers in space, contributing to the Plant Habitat-04 study. This research is vital for future long-duration missions where astronauts will grow their food.

  • Spacewalks: He was involved in installing a new Roll-Out Solar Array (iROSA) to increase the ISS’s power capacity, which is essential for the station’s ongoing operation and future missions.

  • Kidney Health Research: Working on the Kidney Cells-02 experiment, Vande Hei studied the effects of microgravity on kidney cell models, aiming to better understand kidney stone formation.

  • Advancing Waste Management Systems: He contributed to installing and maintaining the Universal Waste Management System, a compact and efficient waste disposal method vital for long-duration space missions.

  • Nanoparticle Research: Vande Hei also participated in the InSPACE-4 experiment, examining the assembly of tiny structures using magnetic fields in microgravity. This research could lead to new material fabrication methods.

  • Studying Boiling in Microgravity: He set up the Flow Boiling Condensation Experiment (FBCE) to understand how boiling and bubble formation differ in space.

  • Earth Observations: Vande Hei contributed to the Crew Earth Observations project, taking photographs of Earth, such as of the frozen Achit Lake in Mongolia, to monitor changes and dynamic events on the planet.

  • Remote Manipulation Research: He assisted in the Ultrasonic Tweezers experiment, which explored capturing and manipulating objects using sound waves, a technique beneficial for avoiding contamination in space and on Earth.

Following his return to Earth, Vande Hei underwent medical checks before returning home. His extended mission provided valuable data for future long-duration space missions, including those under NASA’s Artemis program aiming for lunar exploration​ next year.