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Space records shatter as astronaut returns home

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka has broken the record for longest time in space – by more than two months.

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Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka rests after returning back to Earth on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015. Padalka has broken international records to become the world's most-experienced space flier.

Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo/AP

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2 years, 4 months, 29 days. That’s how long Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka has spent orbiting Earth.

Upon returning from the International Space Station (ISS) today, Mr. Padalka became the most-experienced space flier on the planet, breaking the previous record for the longest amount of time spent in space, held by his countryman Sergei Krikalev, who completed 803 days over 6 missions.

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In just five missions, Padalka has him beat by 76 days.

"I like to fly," he said in March, before launching on his latest mission.

The space frontier has transformed during Padalka's twenty-plus years as a cosmonaut: The Mars Pathfinder and the Phoenix Mars lander explored Mars, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft landed on asteroid Eros, Cassini investigated Saturn’s rings, Stardust brought comet dust back to Earth, and Dawn became the first spacecraft to orbit an asteroid.

Padalka's own achievements have contributed to crewed spaceflight, first on Mir and then with four missions to the ISS.

Padalka’s first mission took him to the Mir Space Station in 1998, where he began preparations to shut down the Russian station. He repaired Mir's life-support system, did cabling work to optimize solar power collection, and gathered experimental data from the space station's exterior, according to Spaceflight101.

Padalka spent much of his second mission aboard ISS in 2004 on maintenance and a series of human research studies. In 2009, Padalka commanded a six-man crew, collaborated with the Dextre robot, inaugurated the Japanese Robotic Arm & Kibo’s airlock, and completed structural assessments of the outboard solar arrays. 

The next year, as part of ISS Expedition 31/32, Padalka contributed to dozens of experiments, including investigating astronaut physiology, examining high speed and thermal neutrons, and testing the first humanoid robonaut.

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Expedition 44 marked Padalka’s fifth mission, and he told interviewers before launching in March that he hopes to pass 1,000 days in space on his next mission reported Spaceflightnow.

"I still hope that spending a long time in space, and conducting experiments with my colleagues, who are also approaching this record, will be of huge significance for future missions," he says in a NASA video.