Suggested Searches

After His Year in Space

Season 1Episode 245May 20, 2022

Mark Vande Hei reflects on his recent 355 days in space. HWHAP Episode 245.

Houston We Have a Podcast Ep. 245 After His Year in Space

Houston We Have a Podcast Ep. 245 After His Year in Space

From Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars, explore the world of human spaceflight with NASA each week on the official podcast of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Listen to in-depth conversations with the astronauts, scientists and engineers who make it possible.

On Episode 245, Mark Vande Hei reflects on his recent 355 days in space. This episode was recorded on May 5, 2022.

HWHAP Logo 2021


Gary Jordan (Host): Houston, we have a podcast! Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 245, “After His Year in Space.” I’m Gary Jordan, I’ll be your host today. On this podcast we bring the experts, scientist, engineers, astronauts, all to let you know what’s going on in the world of human spaceflight. Today, we will be speaking with none other than NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Mark recently returned to Earth on March 30th, 2022, after spending 355 days in space, setting the record for the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut, surpassing the previous record for a single spaceflight that was set at 340 days by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly. We had a chance to speak with Mark about a year ago before this 355-day mission; if you want to go back and listen to Episode 190, Mark discussed what he was looking forward to on this upcoming flight and what he might do differently from his first flight. It wasn’t clear at the time that his mission would get extended to a year; now that he’s returned and had some well-deserved time to relax after his marathon run on station, we’re lucky enough to get the chance to speak with him at length about this incredible experience. So let’s get right into it. Enjoy.


Host: Mark Vande Hei, welcome back to Earth. How are you feeling?

Mark Vande Hei: Good. I’m feeling relaxed right now because I just got done with my two hours of rehab for the day. And that’s the typical part of the schedule and yeah, it’s a pretty good deal.

Host: How’s the adjustment been just in general? Do you feel, do you feel like you’re, you’ve been adjusted to one g? Did it take quicker, longer than you expected after one year? Or are you still doing it?

Mark Vande Hei: I actually feel like my adaptation to walking normally and moving around, balance, feels like I came back more quickly this time.

Host: Interesting.

Mark Vande Hei: But I do have the sense that I’m more fatigued than I was after my, my previous flight. So I, my, my suspicion — I don’t have any science to back this up — my suspicion is that so much of just walking around and balancing, even though I can do it, it’s taking energy that I did not have to expend on the space station because the space station, you can’t fall down on the space station. So there’s a lot of things that just don’t require any effort.

Host: Yeah. That’s part of the research that they’re doing, right, is like all your resistive exercise, your aerobic exercise, just helps your, your body to, to recondition itself, you’re putting stressors on your body that, that you’re saying you just don’t normally have. Really, it’s that continued stressor of just, we don’t even think about it, but just walking, you got that, you got one gravity, you got the, the weight of gravity against you at all times.

Mark Vande Hei: Right. Even sitting down, you’re, ideally, if you’re sitting down and engaging your core, then there’s still some, some energy you’re spending doing that, too.

Host: OK. Well, well Mark, I wanted to, I wanted to really focus for, for this episode, because you have been on a number of times before, I really just wanted to focus where we last left off. We recorded right before your launch, talked about all the training, getting ready for that. And at the time you weren’t super-sure if you were going to be staying there for a long time, there was that possibility, but you weren’t, you weren’t sure. And then of course, you eventually found out. So we’ll pick up there and then, and then we’ll, we’ll follow up with some, with more of this, you know, how you’re doing and, and reconditioning and everything. But taking from that moment, I think, I think we re, recorded just a few days before you went off to Moscow, and then you started that process all over again of getting ready to launch on a Soyuz, which of course you’ve done before. How was that different or similar, you know, for, from the first time that you did it?

Mark Vande Hei: So on the launch day itself, the biggest difference between the first time and the second time was the first time was some ungodly hour in the middle of the night, and the second time was, if I remember correctly, I definitely remember that it was nice and sunny out. It just felt more energetic. So emotionally, the first time, even, I think it probably was early evening, maybe 10:00 p.m. when we left the quarantine facility, large group of people waving and cheering, and so it’s very celebratory, but then all of a sudden you’re with just a few group people on a bus in the dark going off towards a rocket that’s all by itself, away from the rest of humanity. And that was a very weird, kind of lonely feeling. And this time, because, just because of the sunlight, it felt different. You know, there was people waving as, as we drove out to the rocket, there’s representatives of the Russian police force, there’s firefighters that kind of salute the bus as you’re driving by. They do that of course in the middle of the night, too, but it’s more visible during the day.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: And then even going up on the elevator I, the view through the slats of the elevator of the, of the Kazakh steppes, all those things were new to me because I hadn’t seen that during the day, during the day before.

Host: You can actually see it this time. Now when the engines kicked off and you felt that, I guess you, you know, you had experienced that before, was it any different? Were, were you, did you feel more prepared this time because you had gone through it? You know, the, just the experience, did it feel the same, different?

Mark Vande Hei: It, it was very similar, it, and I think there was, I was certainly more comfortable with the process. Another big difference was last time I was in the left seat, which is like being in the co-pilot. This time I was in the right seat, which is really, my responsibilities in that situation are just to take care of myself, make sure I know how to respond to safe myself in an emergency. So I did not have a lot to do. Previous flight, I had lots of systems I had to monitor; this time, I just tried to keep up with what the other crew was doing, but I didn’t have to do anything. I might, I just kind of casually, every five minutes, would check to see if the descent module pressure had changed and kept myself entertained by making a note of what it was, because it should drop by one millimeter of mercury about every five minutes and I would just make sure that was the trend. Because in simulations, when they tested us, there was this one glorious moment when I noticed it, that it was, that we had a depress — in the simulation, not for real life.

Host: Right. Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: And then of course my crewmates were so busy with other things that they didn’t notice. I said, hey, I think we’re having depress, and they said — what?! So again, I just kept myself entertained by just double checking that on the day of, too, but nothing happened. It was all, everything operated perfectly fine. It also freed me up to just pay attention more to the experience, I think, as opposed to so much being so concerned about operating the spacecraft correctly. Again, the left seater is pushing buttons, more even so than the commander because the commander supervising you as you operate the spacecraft. In a lot of cases, when it comes to a manual docking, the commander is doing all that. So, I had lots of time to just try to soak it in. I even took out the tablet that the Russians give you that has all the procedures on it, and I videotaped my crewmates using the tablet a few times, just…it was nice. And also, gosh, I’d really be remiss if I didn’t bring this up. The previous flight was a six-hour flight.

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei: This flight was a three-hour flight and that was much more comfortable because on a six-hour flight, that’s six hours on top of all the preparatory time, getting into the suit, getting out to the vehicle…

Host: Long day.

Mark Vande Hei:…the hour and a half of checking things before you launch. It was much less fatiguing having just the three hours to get to the space station than it was having the six hours.

Host: So yeah, sounds like just an overall better experience. A lot, you got to relax, you got to enjoy, it was much shorter so you weren’t as fatigued. I mean the what, so, so I guess going, that moment of actually docking with the space station, entering through, you’re beginning, you’re beginning your journey at this point. And I don’t know if you have a sense of whether you’re going to stay for, for a year or not, but, but you’re doing it all over again. So what was that, you know, did it feel familiar because you had done it before? Like what was the, that experience like?

Mark Vande Hei: It was very strangely familiar, and it was weird because it’s hard to relate daily life on Earth to living on the space station, because it feels so different. The way you move, everything is so different. There aren’t things that would happen to you on the ground that would suddenly kind of take you back to being on the space station. And then when I got back to the space station, it was like reliving a childhood memory in vivid detail.

Host: Wow.

Mark Vande Hei: So I lived in the same, I slept in the same crew quarters I was up there on last time. There are, there were some changes to the space station, but so many things were exactly the same, but it was, it was a sense of familiarity with also recognizing all these details that I had forgotten, if that makes sense.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: So, and I say that, I compare it to being a child because when I was a little kid, I, I would’ve recognized the cracks on the sidewalk because you know, there was that, my focus was that small. And then when you’re on the space station, normal becomes the cables in this particular spot, or there’s so many little details of living on the space station that that’s just part of your day-to-day life. But there’s so many of those that you just don’t remember ’em, and it was really a very kind of fun experience coming back.

Host: I would equate that to like, so, so I’m trying to relate to the experience, of like going to grandma’s house, for example. Like you can think about your experiences at grandma’s house, but then when you’re thereand you see all the different things, all these memories just start flooding back because you’re, you’re physically there.

Mark Vande Hei: Yeah.

Host: So that’s, that’s, that’s sort of how I would, how would, how I would think about it.

Mark Vande Hei: Yeah, exactly. That’s the emotional context I would say, for sure.

Host: Very interesting. How about the adaptation this time? Yeah. Was, was it a little bit quicker because you know, you had that familiarity, all of those memories were flooding back? Did you adapt to microgravity a little bit quicker?

Mark Vande Hei: I think I did, but there’s also another thing that the Russians provide you — gosh, I can’t remember with certainty the name of it. I think it’s called a braslet; it’s a, it’s a strap that you can wear around your upper thigh and the idea being that in a situation where you have a fluid shift, where you tend to have more of your bodily fluids go towards your head and it gets very uncomfortable, they had offered me this on my previous flight this thing to put around my thighs, like a, like a tourniquet, but a soft tourniquet, doesn’t, doesn’t, completely cut off the flow, but it adds more resistance to the flow back towards your heart, and so that reduces the, the sense of fullness you have in your head, the fluid shift. And because I didn’t quite understand why they were offering it to me the first time, I just said no, that doesn’t make any sense to me, forget it, I have no, no need. This time, when I, when I talked to some other people about it, I said, oh, oh, I see what, why they’re offering this to me, and I, for the first two weeks I wore it. And I think that helped out, too.

Host: Oh, OK. That’s cool. Little device.

Mark Vande Hei: Yeah. Pretty simple.

Host: When, when we last talked before your, before your launch, before your mission, one of the things that you mentioned was that on your first mission, you kind of went into it with this mentality that it would maybe be your last, so you tried to make the most of your experience and you did a lot, you spent a lot of time. Going into this, this mission, one of the things you said beforehand was that your anticipation was, you were going to pace yourself a little bit more, just take some time to let it soak in, take some time to, to really appreciate the moments and take some time for yourself. Is that how you started this increment or did you just kind of go full throttle?

Mark Vande Hei: I def, I definitely set a goal to have few goals, and to just try to, so I should be a little more careful about that: my goal was to journal every day and meditate every day, and to try to just soak it all in as much as possible. And I, I do feel like that I was successful with that.

Host: Do you think ultimately, looking at your whole year that you’ve been there, establishing that as a regular practice from the beginning through end, do you think that really helped to help you to just kind of, you know, be in the moment, stay with it, focus on your task, get everything done and, and not stress yourself out over the, over the year that you were there?

Mark Vande Hei: Definitely. I think, be it, let’s, let’s say you’re going to run a marathon and you’re on your second mile; if you, if on your second mile you think to yourself — I have 24 miles to go — it’s going to make that second mile really, really hard.

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei: But if you just think to yourself, OK, I’m on my second mile and how am I feeling right now, and just focus on that, or gee, let’s focus on my breathing; that can make that second mile feel a lot easier. And if you’re on your 23rd mile, you can think — I feel so terrible, I still have three miles to go! — or you could say to yourself, I already did 23 miles. There’s so many things, so many mental games you can play with yourself that will either help you or hurt you. And I definitely on this flight and – and I’m tapping the table a lot; I just realized I was like, for emphasis, going…

Host: [Laughter] It’s good.

Mark Vande Hei:…hey listeners, if you’re getting uncomfortable hearing me pound on the table, I was actually warned not to do that; so I apologize. Please stick with us, it’ll get better. So, I guess I’m more animated than I thought. Gosh.

Host: That’s good, that’s good.

Mark Vande Hei: So, you, like I was trying to say, you can play mental games that can make it harder for yourself or make it easier for yourself, and I feel like this time I was better about making it easier on myself than last time.

Host: So…ultimately when you were, when you were going through your, your, your, your day to day, one of the things that I, I recall listening to at the end, you know, you had a couple interviews at the end of your, of your, of your increment, of your, of your one year, and you talked about every morning you would get up and before everybody was up you would go right to the Cupola and you would just sort of sit there and you would meditate. It sounds like one of the things that was really important was the, the idea of being in the moment. As much as you’re willing to share about what exactly you were meditating on, what was sort of, what were you preparing yourself for, what was that practice, you know, that to, to really get you ready for the day and stay in the moment?

Mark Vande Hei: Well, there were different focuses…foci?…there’s different things I focused on. How to avoid speaking correctly by choosing different words. I chose to focus on different things and, but the process was always…paying attention to the environment, listening, recognizing the sounds that you’re in, just trying to connect with where you were and notice things that maybe you weren’t noticing. And then turn a little more inward, pay attention to your own breathing, do a scan from head to toe to see how you’re feeling, not, not to put a lot of thought into it but just recognize things. And then after that I would spend two or three minutes, again, just focused on my breathing, trying to just be very relaxed. And when I realized that I could do this in the Cupola with my eyes open, then I would open my eyes and just try to notice what was outside and try to appreciate what I was looking at, a lot of times. Now I could, I could tell you that that’s a big difference between when I would be in my crew quarters and I would be focused very much on what was going on in my head and just trying to recognize things.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: I, I probably was a little more scattered because I would see interesting things on the ground and so, I, I wasn’t as, as internally focused in those. But I really, really felt grateful to have the opportunity to, to just quietly sit and notice the Earth for 20 minutes. And I, and that’s an opportunity I’m really glad I didn’t pass up.

Host: Because, you know, I’m trying, I think a lot of us are trying to, trying to put ourselves in your shoes and just, you know, you’re in a tin can for a year, right? And it can be very easy to slip into that negative mindset. But it sounds like this practice of regular starting the, starting the day with gratitude, with some, with positive mindset, right, you talk, you gave the, the marathon analogy of not talking about how disappointing it was with how far you have to go, just appreciate how far you’ve gone; think, thinking what it takes to be a long-duration crew member. And a lot of the reason what we’re, you know, why we’re doing this, why we’re having an astronaut on the space station for a year, is to really get an understanding of what it takes, because a Mars mission is going to be almost double of what, of what you just did.

Mark Vande Hei: Right.

Host: Maybe a couple of extra months. I think the minimum time would be about 19 months, is what I counted…

Mark Vande Hei:OK.

Host:… for like a minimum time. So just, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s like seven extra months of what, of what you just did. That’s a lot of time. And so, to, to go into it with the right mentality and, and the right positivity…I want, I want to focus a little bit on, on that. The idea of positivity, not just focusing internally on what it takes to, to have that good mental space, but to be a good crew member, too, because you’re not the only person that’s going to be going to Mars, you’re not the only person there. You have to maintain a good environment, a good relationship. Can you talk about the, the experience on orbit and, and, and what it takes to be a good crew member and a good crew to be successful for such a long time, and not, not focus on negativity, but to keep that positivity and spirit up and, you know, be a good worker.

Mark Vande Hei: I think the first step in being a good crew and a good, good member of that crew is, is very much what I like to say is essential to leadership, is trust. If you’re trying to be a good leader, anything you can do to enhance trust between you and the people that you’re leading or, or if you’re just trying to be a good team member, anything you can do to build — the team is stronger with everybody trusts each other. And that means, if you understand other people’s motivations and you recognize that it’s, it’s, the motivations are not about that individual, it’s about more focused on the group. And, but of course to do that that’s got to be your motivation, too. I think the trust is a big piece and that means even sometimes when there’s difficult topics to bring up, if you have the type of climate where you can bring those things up and trust that the other person’s going to actually listen and recognize that even though the initial reaction might feel like, wow, this feels really uncomfortable for me to hear this, but I, it’s important to hear it. Gosh, there was times people would, would really make themselves vulnerable by, by talking about things that they were struggling with. And they were very grateful that when they did that, they made that the, the, the feedback they got from the rest of the crew members was a lot of sympathy and understanding as opposed to judgment or, or. So I think that what the meditation did for me, a lot, was help me recognize when I was filling in information that I didn’t have with a narrative that I was making up. And I think a lot of, if that negative mindset versus positive mindset is if you fill in those gaps with a story that’s a negative story or a positive story, and it’s not so much about making it a positive one as recognizing when you just don’t know — and I’m pounding on the table again — and, and, and recognizing that these are opportunities to ask, or ex, or recognize the range of possible things that could be causing the situation. Now, let me make that a little more concrete. The PMM (Permanent Multipurpose Module) is a place on the space station kind of like the attic. It’s where we store lots of, of items. It’s not a place that I was enthusiastic about having to go into to find something, because sometimes it would be buried someplace else. It it’s really easy to misplace things in there. Things, sometimes when you’re trying to get one thing you have to move a lot of other things and it’s very easy to not put it back where it belongs. Crew members are very good about trying to keep things in the right place and it’s very important we do that, but sometimes there’s mistakes that happen. So imagine many times you’ll go into the PMM and maybe you have 20 minutes for an activity and you’ve already spent ten minutes still trying to find the stuff you need to do the work. Now, in that situation, when you’re by yourself in the PMM, you’re not talking to the ground, you could really easily say, oh my gosh, they must think I’m terrible at my job, I’ve already used half the time and I haven’t even started really; but recognize, I caught myself and recognized that I was filling in. There was a lot, I didn’t know what the ground thought about me; I didn’t, I didn’t really had no idea. All I really knew was that I was, I had spent this much time in the PMM looking for something, I hadn’t found it yet, but I had attached a negative thing to the idea that I was taking this long. Nobody else had. No one else was condemning that I had taken this long. And so, when I recognized that, wait a minute, I’m looking for something on the space station and I’m, they all float. This is kind of cool.

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei: I could come out of the PMM being like, wow, I kind of like my life; this is really, really kind of nice. Or I could come out of the PMM being frustrated and angry, and for all I knew the ground was, was feeling bad that they hadn’t given me enough time. So there’s all these things. I think it’s just becoming more aware of what you are doing to yourself is really the biggest thing about meditation that I got.

Host: Wow. Yeah. That’s amazing. I think, do you, do you apply that right now? Do you apply that maybe to your recovery and just, and you know, now that you’re, now that you’re, you know, on the ground, your re-adaptation and everything, is that a practice you think is very beneficial for day to day life?

Mark Vande Hei: Absolutely. Although I can tell you that my routine is little less my own here now, so I haven’t been as good about it on the ground. I definitely think it’s beneficial. I had started on the ground before this and that’s why I was able to, to keep it up.

Host: Yeah. Going back to, to the station, you, you, you gave the, the PMM example, the attic example, and, and, just to give our listeners a sense for one, one thing that I think is, is astounding is just how busy they keep you guys. I mean that you’re, you’re working very long days; you’re working out for a lot of times, you got, your timeline is down to, you know, minutes. And, and you know, that stress of being behind on the timeline I can, I can totally sympathize with that, right, because then you’re, you can start spiraling to think, oh, I’m impacting this and what’s the team going to have to do to reschedule me, you know? So talk about, you know, that, when I, when I first brought up your pace, right, and, and just how you, how you approached it, just, just the day to day of, of being an astronaut and what that, what that busy schedule looked like, you know, as, as soon as you got on and, and how you, and how you kept that up. So, so that, so the day of a, of a NASA astronaut.

Mark Vande Hei: So the day of a NASA astronaut, it starts off with post-sleep at 6:00 a.m. and then typically about 7:30 is the morning DPC, Daily Planning Conference.

Host:The Daily Planning Conference.

Mark Vande Hei: It’s kind of the, the work meeting to start off the day; takes less, it’s scheduled for 15 minutes, normally takes a little less than that. And then from 7:15 to about seven, seven, I’m sorry, about 7:45 in the morning to about 7:15 at night, that’s the workday. And you get an hour for your midday meal. That 7:15 p.m. is when we’d have the evening DPC, another work meeting, another Daily Planning Conference.

Host: To review what you did or to review what your what’s coming up?

Mark Vande Hei: Typically, it’d be a very quick meeting, maybe there were some unanswered questions for that were still being saved from earlier in the day.

Host: OK.

Mark Vande Hei: Sometimes it would be, hey, this computer just stopped working, can someone check that really quickly? It takes 30 seconds.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: And a lot of times it would just let us know whether or not the plan was available for the next day, and if they were anticipating any changes to that. Sometimes there was an opportunity for us to congratulate somebody on the ground for getting certified as a flight controller, or maybe somebody was retiring. But, so that workday from about 7:45 in the morning to 7:15 at night, that included two hours — let me clarify that: that was an hour and a half of time on a resistive exercise device was one of the things that always happened every day, and also, an hour on a cardiovascular device: that could have been a treadmill to run on, or CEVIS (Combined Ergometer with Vibration Isolation Stabilization), which is our, our ergometer, so like a bicycle. And otherwise, in the time that was remaining, there was everything from outreach events, like public affairs events, where we did question/answers with students, to helping out with science payloads, to doing maintenance activities on the space station. We, we’ve got water, water activities, and even maintain the toilet’s really important, a very frequent activity.

Host: How’d you feel like going from, from, from item to item, right, there, there’s a lot that they jam in there, but there can be a lot of different head spaces you need to be in, right? So the head space of fixing the toilet is completely different from the head space of, you know, standing up in front of a camera and doing a public affairs event. All of that can be in a single timeline, in a single day. So how do, how do you shift your mind to get ready from one thing to the other, in what seems like, what could be, you know, a matter of minutes and just, you know, that’s, that’s a lot in your day a lot to think about. So how’d you, how’d you navigate that?

Mark Vande Hei: That can be a little jarring; we’re going from different type of activity, different type of activity, activity. However, if the activity you’re moving into is something you’re familiar with, it’s less jarring. For example, if I was doing a maintenance activity and I, I’m just starting it, it’s the time to do that, and I knew what that activity was about, it, it was easy to transition to. Public affairs events, we do them so often they eventually became very comfortable to do. There’s, there’s a, someone’s going to set up the camera, do a sound check and then next, and then 10, 20 minutes later, you’re going to go ahead and start the event. Maybe it was jarring if you looked at the questions and realized you didn’t know some of the answers. For example, it was more challenging when Ph.D. students were asking questions than grade school students.

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei: Grade school students’ questions I could typically know the answer off the top of my head. They were very much based on my experience. Ph.D. students sometimes ask me questions that actually related to some science that I didn’t know the details of. So, with enough time, there was definitely some frantic calls to the ground to say, what is, what are they asking you? What’s the answer? But the ground is very helpful.

Host: How about that pace? That’s a long day, right? So 7:15 was your morning daily planning, and then you ended it 12 hours later, like seven something at night. You had a workout, you had meals, you had breaks. That cadence, that, that, that day, you think that’s a, a sustainable practice for, for a year? You think that was, that was, that worked for you or would you’ve wanted maybe a different structure?

Mark Vande Hei: The, the pace worked well. My impression was for, for the six-month first flight and the one-year second flight, rough, almost a year second flight, it’s kind of like starting a new job. And when you start a new job, let’s say you’re going to do similar things throughout the, throughout that six months, the first month you’re there things are going to be pretty hard because you’re learning a lot. And then as time goes on, those things get easier and easier. And that that timeline can seem very onerous. But then as you start doing things more repeatedly and they’re not, so you, maybe you’ve already learned that this is what they meant when they said this is the procedure and you know, just to do it, things go more quickly. And it’s certainly, it’s a good feeling when you’re staying ahead of the timeline. It’s a bad feeling when you’re getting behind the timeline. However, I always tried to convince myself and my crewmates that you’ve got to divorce yourself from your sense of success or failure based on whether or not you are ahead of the timeline or behind the timeline. Because as soon as you get really celebratory and start feeling like I’m a really good astronaut because I’m ahead of the timeline, then you’re setting yourself up for the failure when you’re behind the timeline, because then you’ll feel like, well, I’m not a good astronaut. But that’s really, people will make, when people make the timeline they’re trying to make a good guess on how quickly you can do things.

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei: And as long as you know that you’re putting in your best effort, you’re trying to get things done, if the timeline didn’t work and you can separate yourself from, from feelings of success or failure based on whether that, that worked as long as, you know, you tried…

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei:…then you can go into the next day and the next day feeling like, OK, it’s going to be fine. If it doesn’t work repeatedly and you’re not condemning yourself because you didn’t get things done fast enough, then, then it’s easier to deal with for a long period of time. And that was essential for me, is to try it really hard to just say, hey, you know, that’s not going to happen today after all. And the ground’s really good about replanning stuff.

Host: Was there any difference in your approach or your mentality when you found out that it was official, that you were going to stay for pretty much a year, very close to a year? It sounds like for the most part, your mentality was focusing on the day to day, so, so that can certainly be a practice that you can continue for a long time, but was there a shift, was there, was there anything that was going through your head when you’re like, OK, I’m going to, I’m going to have to stay here?

Mark Vande Hei: Actually, there wasn’t a big shift because before, when I got offered the opportunity to fly again my boss’s boss told me that this might be a year-long flight. And so, before I said yes, I talked to my family and let them know, this might be a year-long flight. And maybe because of my military experience, we just assumed the worst. We assumed it was going to be a year-long flight, so all, all of my training when I wasn’t sure if I was going to launch at all, and when I wasn’t sure how long it was going to last, I assumed I was going to launch, and I assumed it was going to be year-long flight, and then anything else was just going to be different. So it really wasn’t, it wasn’t a big shift for me at all.

Host: OK. what’s, what’s nice about the space station is, is how close it is to Earth. So you have, you know, you can see the Earth — that that’s, that’s not a bad view versus like the blackness of space if you were traveling far away. But you also are, are very close to have real time communications with people on the ground, with family members, right? You said you prepared your family, but you could still talk to them, right? Do you think that was a very important aspect to, to just life, you know, living in space for a year was being able to talk to people real time throughout, other than your, your crew members, being able to talk to people constantly throughout the whole time?

Mark Vande Hei: Yeah, absolutely. I think, I think one of the challenges of being on the space station is you are isolated from so many of the people that are, you love very much. And having, being able to maintain those connections, I think is really important. And we’re going to have to find, it’ll probably be more with video messages back and forth as we get farther and farther away from the planet, but it’s going to be essential to, to do stuff to maintain those relationships.

Host: You got to talk to a lot of people. You got to talk to scientists as you were doing all, all, like all your, the science experiments. You know, we, we, we, you saw a lot of Commercial Crew missions. So we had, you had the big loop of, of NASA people, SpaceX people, you saw spaceflight participants when you were up there. It was, it was a pretty, pretty jam-packed time. And it was, to me, it seemed very different from, from your last mission. Did you get the same feeling? I know you said the space station changed, but it just seemed like there was a lot more that changed. Did you get the same feeling?

Mark Vande Hei: Definitely. There was always, except for, I think three days, on the U.S. segment there was five people. And on the Russian segment, there was two to five people, typically two while I was there. And, and there was times when we had both Crew-1 and Crew-2 transitioning and, and me up there as well: that was nine of us at least. There might have even been, yeah, yeah…it was, there was a lot of people.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: And that’s, there’s challenges associated with that, but really it was just felt vibrant to me. It felt like there was a lot going on and the people were all wonderful. So that made it really nice.

Host: How about the fact that they were coming and going, too, because that’s a little different from, from previous expeditions, you saw Crew-1, they left, Crew-2 came up and did an entire expedition and then left in the time that you were there. So, you know, how was, how was seeing the regular rotation of, of people and the, and as, as you were staying there?

Mark Vande Hei: I felt very fortunate to get to be in space with so many people from the astronaut office, which is a pretty, pretty cool thing to be able to do. The thing I do remember very strongly though, is when Crew-2 even just departed to do a relocation from one spot to another spot on the space station…

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei:…that was just a few hours with them gone, but that was like my family leaving, and so suddenly the whole space station, my — the U.S. segment’s really big, there’s the Russian crew, Russian crew members were still in the Russian segment, but it felt weird. It felt really strange to have them leave, because I was by myself on the, on the U.S. segment. And then when they left for good, before Crew-3 came up, it felt a lot like being in the dorms before summer break and everybody leaving.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: And suddenly all the dormitories being empty, but you’re still there. Does that make sense?

Host: I’ve, I’ve been in that spot. Yes. I’ve been that person.

Mark Vande Hei: So you look across the hallway and there’s a crew quarters, in my case on the space station, and it’s suddenly empty and this person that, that every time you looked out — Thomas Pesquet, every time I opened my door, Thomas Pesquet, if he was working on his computer, he’d be there.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: And Megan [McArthur] was above me and Aki [Hoshide] was below me.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: We’re just in close proximity to each other all the time and then, bam, they’re gone, and all their stuff is gone too. So there’s just this really strange sensation of being left behind, I guess, in a way. Does that make sense?

Host: Yeah, it does. Is it, I mean, one of the things that sounds like is coming out is, you know, not just getting along with your crewmates, we talked, we talked a little bit about that, but developing a strong bond with them…

Mark Vande Hei: Oh, of course.

Host:…that, that has to be very important to, to having a good stable environment, a successful environment on the space station. Sounds like you were really close with these people.

Mark Vande Hei: Oh, absolutely.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: You see them every day, all the workday and at night. So they’re very much your work family.

Host: When it comes to being an astronaut, you know, you, you probably, you know, you are an astronaut, you’ve, you’ve, you’ve gone through the mentality of what it takes to, to be a positive person. Do you think there is a baseline standard for, for the qualities, the personal qualities, of an astronaut that it would take? So if you said yes, I would be willing to spend six months, a year, maybe even more in space with you, what are those baseline qualities that you would be looking for?

Mark Vande Hei: I would, this is something I tell school kids to a lot.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: An astronaut should be the type of person who always tries to do their best, but puts more emphasis on everybody around them doing their best, too, helping people around them be their best, than that you stand out as being better than everybody else. You’ve also got to be a good camper. When I say good camper, I’m not talking about just being able to cook your food and things. I’m talking about just being somebody who other people enjoy living with. So, because you’re going to live with those other people and there’s no way out. So, that’s something we, we need to, to be around, be around other people that are enjoyable to live with that that goes a long way towards being productive. The positivity certainly helps, and I also think it, it’s not just in how, how you feel and how enjoyable or lack thereof it can be, but also how you perform, because if you’re beating yourself up, you’re using a part of your brain focused on that as opposed to focusing on the task you’re doing. And, and I’ve been in situations where I, I realized I performed better when I got coached to, to just say to yourself, I got this; I got this. And, and go there instead of, oh no.

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei: You perform better. And things, things will go better.

Host: That’s, I mean, I applaud you really for, for keeping up that mentality. It seems like that’s really what, what helped you to, to, to stay there for the long term and, and, you know, seems like, even now, I can, I can tell you’re just a very positive person. I think that’s a, that’s a very good quality. Is there any other, is there any frustrations or you, you look back on your increment and you just think, if we are going to go to Mars, if we truly are going to, going to go there for two years, what do you think, what do you think would be really important to consider for creating a successful environment? Because you can go into it with all the positivity in the world, right, but if you had to change maybe the, the routine or, or something about it, what would be, what would one piece of anecdotal feedback that you would present to folks designing a Mars mission?

Mark Vande Hei: The first thing that pops to mind, I’m not sure it’s the, the best thing, but the first thing that pops to mind is do not be a hoarder. So you’ve got…space is going to be very limited and so we got to make sure that we only bring what we need to bring and that we don’t have…it’s probably a very different dynamic, though, because if we’re sending a spacecraft to Mars and somehow, I don’t, I don’t know what type of architecture we’re going to have for that situation.

Host: Right, right.

Mark Vande Hei: But if it’s a spacecraft that we’re using for a long period of time and much like, the space station has a lot of stuff on it and because it takes so many resources to get something onto the space station we’re very reluctant to take it off unless we’re absolutely certain we don’t need it. My impression is if you add more storage space to the space station, it will verily, very quickly get filled with more stuff. So we don’t necessarily improve the storage situation by adding more storage, we just make the problem bigger. So that’s one thing to look out for. Windows are huge. I think if, for, for me, certainly being able to look out the window, and even looking out at the stars, that was really good for me mentally. And I think that’ll be really good for people as they travel further and further away. There’s a sense of connectedness that comes with, and, and also a sense of awe, a sense of timelessness, that that’s associated with looking at the stars. Earlier, you brought up the spaceflight tourists: Klim [Shipenko], Klim and Yulia [Peresild] were there as a couple of our spaceflight tourists, and they were filming a movie, and I had to escort them while they were over at the Cupola doing some filming during the day. And then I could tell when the, the Sun went down that they, they stopped filming, and, and I realized that they had a really good opportunity that they might not have realized. So I turned off all the lights in that module and the adjacent modules; made it very dark. And it, one of my favorite moments was seeing how quiet they got as they kind of got the sense of awe of seeing the Aurora Borealis as we were passing through. And it’s, it’s, it’s just an awe-inspiring view. And I think Klim started videotaping again, and I’m really hoping that, with having a professional photographer up in, on the space station that, I look forward to seeing how someone with that skill set shares that view with the rest of humanity. I think it’s, really going to be nice.

Host: Wow; fascinating. What an experience, if, if you, you know, take a snapshot of it and, and just look at the whole thing, would you recommend it to other astronauts? Just say, yes, absolutely. This is, this is, a great experience, and it’s an important thing to do. Would you, and that, but, and then would you say that, and then would you say, if you go into it, here’s what you got to know?

Mark Vande Hei: Oh, certainly I’d say you you’re, you’re doing the right thing.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: You got a great job. The space station’s an amazing place. You’ve got to do some head work to make sure you understand how you internally operate with yourself. And I’d say that’s just recognize that the relationship you have with yourself is extremely important when you’re not surrounded by that many other people. It’s important when you’re surrounded by a lot of other people, too, it’s just an opportunity to really, it’s something that’s very valuable to work on.

Host: I know you stayed in the moment for, for a lot of your, your mission, but towards the end, did you get a sense of excitement that you were returning back to Earth?

Mark Vande Hei: Yes, I did. I, I remember trying hard not to let myself get excited because I recognized I was, people would say, you know, you only got a month left — I said, I don’t want to hear that, because really I have today.

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei: Like I really, and I was afraid that I would start counting down — now I only have 28 days, now only have 27 days — because if I’m doing that, then I’m very much focused on what I would call “the lack,” that, that I’m not where I want be yet, as opposed to recognizing that I’m in this special place right now, I need to, to notice the details about this, and that’s what makes it enjoyable. I think when we’re engaged in anything and we’re putting all of our attention into it, that’s when it’s fun for us. When we’re really, I don’t care if it’s surfing or reading a book, but being fully engaged in what you’re doing is an indication that you’re enjoying it, and vice versa, if you, you can enjoy it more by trying to be fully engaged in it. So I, I really tried hard to not, not, even my doctors said, hey, you only have three weeks left – I don’t want to hear that! Stop!

Host:[Laughter] How about the experience of, you know, undocking and, and returning to Earth? Think, you know, I listened to, to you talk about the first experience and you talked about a sense of nervousness before the parachutes deployed and, and you talked about all of this. Going into it this time, how was that experience?

Mark Vande Hei: Because like I had that right seat, I didn’t have as many duties to pay attention to things…

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei:…it was very different. I spent a lot more time looking out the window.

Host: Oh.

Mark Vande Hei: I…I remember as we backed away from the space station, looking out the window the entire time and watching the space, parts of the space station slowly fade away and recognizing I’m not going to see this view ever again, so it was, it was kind of a nostalgic feeling. But it’s very beautiful. It’s this amazing engineering accomplishment for humanity, and, and seeing this vivid view in the sunlight with the blackness of space behind it was, was something I’ll never forget. Then when we fired the deorbit burn, there was this sensation of something pushing on our backs. So I, I…there was this one sensation, it was floating, and I, that was part of normality for me; and then all of a sudden having this constant sensation of being pushed, it felt like something was pushing on us. And another interesting part though was when the deorbit burn finished, suddenly that sense of pushing was, disappeared, and it didn’t feel like, this floating sensation didn’t feel like part of the background, like normalcy. It felt like suddenly I was falling because, and, but honestly, when you’re in orbit, you are falling all the time. You’re in an environment that’s falling towards the center of the Earth; you’re just moving so fast horizontally, you keep missing. That is all orbit is.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: We don’t turn off gravity. It’s not a zero-gravity environment. It’s a zero g environment, and I’m not going to go into the details about why I’m comfortable saying that. But things don’t push on you very hard because they’re all falling with you. And it felt, suddenly again, like the hand went away that was pushing on me and I was falling again. So that was a weird sensation. And then shortly after that, you start interacting with the atmosphere and it starts slowing down so you start feeling that pushing sensation again. The, in the early stages of that it surprised me because I, I didn’t remember, when my focus on my previous flight looking inside the Soyuz at the computer panels, I wasn’t looking outside; and when I was looking outside in this flight, it looked like the Earth was swinging left and right past the, the spacecraft, because the Soyuz descent module was oscillating as it was going through the atmosphere. And that surprised me. And I really thought it was really interesting because we saw the beautiful deserts of North Africa as this is happening, just this gorgeous view, and the angle’s getting a little lower as time goes on. It is beautiful. But then I realized the swinging sensation was kind of upsetting to my stomach.

Host: Oh.

Mark Vande Hei: So I decided to look back in and look at the computers again. And that was, everything got normal very quick.

Host: Cool.

Mark Vande Hei: The next sensation was this, this sense of being pushed on kept increasing. If I remember correctly, my previous flight, we got to 3.5 g, so we felt the acceleration due to gravity at 3.5 times what we normally feel. It went past that. And I remember thinking, how much farther is this going to go? And it got to about 4.7 or so, I think, before it started settling down again.

Host: Wow.

Mark Vande Hei: And that, that does feel a little bit uncomfortable. I think it’s more uncomfortable when you’re not sure how far it’s going to go.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: And then once that, that stopped, that was fine. And then there’s that waiting period very much like the previous time, you just have to wait for the parachute to open up.

Host: Yep.

Mark Vande Hei: I wasn’t as startled, I kind of knew that I was in this state where I was waiting to see if we we’re going to survive or not because if the parachutes don’t open we weren’t going to survive. The parachutes opened, everything was good. A lot of people feel like it’s upsetting when the, the spacecraft starts oscillating very, very violently once the parachute opens up, but again for me, very similar to the last flight, that felt celebratory to me, that was exciting. That was a good thing. It was kind of like a roller coaster ride where you’re like, yeah, this is great! And then interestingly, I think because last time I hit the ground with my head out of the seat, and I remember the sensation on the first landing, on the previous flight, like I got hit the head, in the back of the head with a two-by-four…

Host: Ooh.

Mark Vande Hei:…that I, my first emotion was anger. Like, are you kidding me? Like that was, am I going to have a concussion? This time, I had a lot of time while we were waiting to hit the ground. And I was braced for that. I had my head back in the seat.

Host: Oh nice.

Mark Vande Hei: And I think my anticipation of that was actually harder than the impact. So that was kind of, that surprised me that when we hit the ground it, I was like, OK, that was a thing, but it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be. So then, but the next thing that happened is so, previous flight it was February, the ground was icy; we hit the ground, the parachute reinflated before we released one of the risers, and so it started dragging the spacecraft, but you could hear the ice grating as we slid across the ice. It didn’t tip the spacecraft over. This time, we hit the ground: very weird sensation, I wasn’t really sure if we bounced. I wasn’t sure which way was up, the parachute reinflated and made us tip, so another, I didn’t really know which way was up. I just felt like there’s a whole lot of stuff going on that I do not understand. And then I think what happened is the parachute caused us to not just tip over, but then also roll.

Host: Oh.

Mark Vande Hei: So again, like what’s going on? And then we finally, all that motion stopped. First flight I was laying on my back, it wasn’t really an uncomfortable position to be in; the hatch was above us. This time the hatch was horizontal, I was hanging in the, in the straps with my arms kind of hanging down, and my, we’ve got those, those tablets that the Russians give us with the procedures, that was hanging and, and hitting Anton [Shkaplerov]. And I looked at Anton and said, Anton, I’m not sure which way is up right now, but the fact that my tablet’s hitting you makes me think you’re lower than me. And, and, and that was a little uncomfortable hanging in the seat, hanging kind of forward. And then I was really surprised with how quickly I could see, kind of shadows in the window of people moving past the window, after all that happened so quickly. And then they rolled the spacecraft to a slightly different orientation, which put me in the lower end.

Host: Oh.

Mark Vande Hei: And had me kind wedged in the bottom. But that felt a little more comfortable to me. I was really, felt very weak as far as moving my arms, everything seemed kind of strange.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: It’s kind of like, its kind, I would describe it as if someone put a rubber band in every one of your joints and you’re trying to do something normal, like move your pen over it, but it just feels like it’s a lot more force than you would expect.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: I got to watch the search and rescue forces pull Anton out over the hatch. Previous flight you just kind of reached your arms up and they would, a bunch of people would reach down and pull you out. This time there was one person that would reach in and they’d be kind of laying on the hatch, they had to get to a lot of straps to undo us. And they, it was, it’s hard dragging somebody with, we got pockets full, there’s all kinds of stuff, and so my impression was pulling someone across the hatch when they’re laying on the hatch was a little more difficult as far as all the gear getting caught on the hatch.

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei: So they did that with Anton. I got to watch them doing it for Pyotr [Dubrov] — Pyotr was hanging from a little higher up, so it’s more challenging getting his straps undone in a way where it wouldn’t fall out. That gave me a lot of time to just empty my pockets. And I, I had one thing that I knew I had to turn in, it was a, it was a dosimeter…

Host: Oh, right — radiation.

Mark Vande Hei: So they, that was part of the science, I knew that that had to get turned in. Everything else in my pockets – headlamps, mini Maglites, my kneeboard, the Russian tablet, barf bags – all these things I just did not need, I just started taking them off and throwing in the corner because I didn’t care what happened to those things. And then when it was time for me to get out I was no, nothing in my pockets, I was unstrapped and they just dragged me out.

Host: Wow.

Mark Vande Hei: So that’s the whole, that’s the whole landing process for me.

Host: That, wonderful, wonderfully told. I mean, you, when you were, you were on the ground, you saw those familiar faces, you started the journey back. You know, how, how were you feeling in that moment where, you know, your, your readjustment back to, back to one g? Was, did you feel more or less, I don’t know, with the, with the, with the sick, I guess, than, than the first time, or what was that like?

Mark Vande Hei: I, in both cases I didn’t have nausea. I had a lot of unsteadiness. If I, one of the tests they had us do after both flights was close our eyes and try to walk toe-heel, toe-heel. Right after flight, I could not do that. I had to lean on someone the entire time. I just couldn’t.

Host: Oh.

Mark Vande Hei: As soon as my eyes were closed, I did not know which way was up. That was consistent. It felt, I certainly felt sore, I felt weak, I felt tired in both cases. But maybe because I had some context for how this process was going to work, it, it did seem a little bit easier. I can’t say that it was actually physically easier, but it would seem more acceptable. I do remember after landing I got given sunglasses and there’s lots of pictures of me with the sunglasses and thumbs up.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: But shortly after I put the sunglasses on, I thought to myself, wait a minute. I don’t want sunglasses on, I want to see the sunlight! So I handed those sunglasses back, and I don’t think there’s very many pictures of me without the sunglasses at all.

Host: Right. I see them mostly, yeah, with the sunglasses.

Mark Vande Hei: So I was just excited to be outside. In fact, they put us in tent pretty quickly. I did a lot of those tests isolated from the rest of humanity so people could see me as I, wouldn’t see me as I stumbled around. But as soon as I got the chance, I said, why are we in here? The weather’s gorgeous outside. The Sun was, it was late afternoon in late March, in Kazakhstan, and it was gorgeous out. So I walked outside and I just stood outside and it was windy — not, not so, it was just pleasant. And I, that was my overriding feeling was, let me, let me get outside.

Host: That was, yeah. That was consistent in some of your comments before was, that’s one thing that you missed a lot was just nature and just the, the wind on your face and everything. When you, when you got home, did you, what, what, what were some of the things, first things that you did? First meals that you wanted to have? A first sense of normalcy of, of planet Earth? What were some of those things that you were craving?

Mark Vande Hei: Big thing that sticks out was again on the plane, the flight. Rick Scheuring, believe it or not, my, he’s my deputy flights, deputy flight surgeon, both Rick and Rainer, Rainer Effenhauser who’s my primary flight doc[tor], were on the aircraft with me. Rick had never tasted guacamole before, but he knew from the previous flight surgeons that, that, that was something I really would appreciate if we had guacamole on the flight. So he got the ingredients, he got a little coaching from one of the flight mechanics and, he made the most amazing guacamole that I had ever tasted. It was delicious. I told him he’s a guacamole savant. He, he’s got a gift for, and so, if you ever get opportunity, someday in the future, if there’s like “Rick Scheuring’s Guacamole” on grocery store, store shelves…

Host: Oh, pick it up.

Mark Vande Hei:…you should try that out. So Rick, if you’re hearing this, hopefully this will launch your business.

Host: Awesome. Awesome. So guacamole, yeah. When, when you got to see your family, was that a, was that a pretty special moment, too?

Mark Vande Hei: Oh my gosh. Yes. My, my wife and my son were both there. My daughter’s working in Washington State and couldn’t make it because of her work schedule, but we’re going to see her soon. Yeah, it was, it was amazing to see. I just, I was very, very excited; just thinking about it makes me feel, feel happy.

Host: Good. Now you’ve had, the time that we’re recording this is little more than a month, since your landing, so you’ve had time to spend with your family, you’ve, you’re, you’re participating in, in the post-flight science and, and everything. How’s, how’s everything right now? Do, do you have a break? Do you have some time to breathe or is it still busy? What’s, what’s it like right now?

Mark Vande Hei: So I do have a break and NASA’s been very supportive of the break, but I think because I’m taking so much of a break and taking those breaks very soon, there’s a lot jammed into this, this week and, and last week.

Host: Yeah. I’m sorry. I’m one of those people that’s…

Mark Vande Hei: You are, but that’s OK. It’s, it’s important work, and it’s fun too.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: The things have been fairly busy, but again, I, I, I’m going to have a lot of vacation time coming up.

Host: Good, good. Super-well-deserved, too, because that’s, that’s a lot that you did. It’s, it’s, it’s an important thing. And, and if, if you look back on, you know, why we’re doing this and why we’re having long-duration crews, and one of the scientists why, when I, I talked to some folks that worked the one-year mission with Scott Kelly and they were talking about how important it was, and I was like, what’s some of the things that you’re looking for, you know, going forward? And they said, well that’s, Scott Kelly’s a sample size of one. And he said, the more that we, the more data we get, the more that we can understand what’s happening. And you’re, you’re one of the participants in that, you’re sample size number two or, or close to it.

Mark Vande Hei: Three.

Host: Right, because [Christina] Koch, Koch, right, because she was very close, too. So, and then of course, you know, you were with Pyotr the whole time, too. And you know, there, there, there’s other people that have spent that much time. Do you feel like you’re contributing to something greater, and do you feel like that that thing is as important as the scientists are, are thinking that it is?

Mark Vande Hei: Absolutely. I really am, feel very honored to have helped contribute to what I think is going to be important information for future exploration. You talked about the length of, of flights as we get farther and farther from the Earth; understanding what that does to human beings psychologically, physically, that’s, we, we need to have a good understanding because when someone lands on Mars, they’re not going to have a medical staff waiting for them.

Host: Yeah. That’s one thing that I, that I was thinking, I was thinking immediately when you were talking about your, your feelings when as soon as you got down to Earth, right, that’s, that’s that altered gravity field whenever you go from, from microgravity to one, one g. Someone landing on Mars after, after nine months or whatever in the transit that it takes to get there is going to have those same feelings and that same, and they’re going to need time to get adjusted to that and to recondition. You said you had great, great docs that were helping you out and and carrying you from place to place and that was very, very beneficial, but that’s something that, that we’re just not going to have. So something, some, that goes through my mind is, you know, like if you, if you had to, if you had to imagine yourself in this, in the Kazakh steppe, right, and you were, and you were there in the spacecraft, but you knew you had to do it all by yourself or just with a couple of crewmates that were going through the same things, right, like, what, what would you be able to do? What could you do?

Mark Vande Hei: You, I think, I have been asked this question because of course there’s technical concerns about whether or not it’s possible.

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei: And my answers have been, yes, we can do it. It’s just going to take a really long time, and you’ve got to be very deliberate. We would’ve had to help each other out a lot; opening the hatch would’ve been challenging, but it’s all doable. It, it, well, you might end up having to spend 15 minutes before anybody even decides to move as you just kind of get your head right. But, we just got to expect to take time. I think human beings in general are very, very resilient.

Host: Yeah.

Mark Vande Hei: And we’ll figure out ways to do it. It’ll be hard, uncomfortable, might not even smell pleasant.

Host: Right.

Mark Vande Hei: But I’m confident that people can figure out how to do stuff.

Host: That’s the resilience of a NASA astronaut: you said 15 minutes, give me 15 minutes I’m going to start moving. It’s going to be slow, but I’ll start moving. Not like, I don’t think a normal person could, would say that, right? It’s just give me a day.

Mark Vande Hei: As, as a normal person. I, I think many normal people could do it.

Host:Yeah. Well, we, I think there’s a lot of people that definitely look up, up to that level of perseverance for sure. And you know, you’re, you’re going, you’re going to go on a well-deserved break here, here for sure. And, and, but, you know, definitely appreciate all of the things that you’re doing right now and what you did in space and everything. Thinking about all the folks that made this mission possible, right? You think, you know, you’re, you’re just one, the one person, but you know, I do want to have a nod to Pyotr, too, who, who did it as well, right?

Mark Vande Hei: Absolutely.

Host: He did the same thing that you did.

Mark Vande Hei: And it was his first flight.

Host: That was his first flight too?

Mark Vande Hei: Yes.

Host: How, were you guys talking a lot, just throughout the whole process, just, hey, how you feeling, man, everything good were, were doing some of that?

Mark Vande Hei: Yeah. I, I, we had group dinners once a week and Pyotr, Pyotr and I actually worked some on trying to identify the leaks in the Russian segment and try to help out with the patching of that. So yeah, I, I asked him how he was doing and he’s, my sense at first was that he had some, wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, but as time went on I think he got so comfortable up there I think if someone said he had to stay for an extra six months he would’ve been fine.

Host: [Laughter] That’s awesome. Good. Good man. And, and of course you, you guys actually spent the time, but a lot of folks on the ground did a lot of planning.

Mark Vande Hei: Oh yeah.

Host: You know, there was, there was a lot of shuffling, even you just mentioned like Crew-2 landing before Crew-3, a lot of folks had to, to work around that. And just to, to make this mission successful, you think about all the folks that actually contribute to, to this. You know, what are some of the things that go through your head just thinking about what it takes to execute a mission to space like this?

Mark Vande Hei: Yeah. There’s been a lot of people that have said Mark Vande Hei sets the U.S. record for 355 days single flight. That’s not my record, I think; that’s the team’s record because it’s not like I put on skis and crossed Antarctica by myself — there was a whole bunch of people that had to do stuff to make this happen. And I had the benefit of getting to live it, but gosh, people dedicate their careers to make it. And so it’s, it’s a success for the whole team. And I, and I do think it’s a steppingstone. It’s a record that I think, for the team and the progress that we expect to make, I see this as a record that I hope is broken quickly.

Host: Good. Yeah. Yeah. That’s the goal, right? That we’re going to spend more and more time. Mark Vande Hei, thank you so much for coming on Houston We Have a Podcast for a fifth time, sharing your experience. This has been an absolute pleasure and I really hope you enjoy your time off with your family and everything.

Mark Vande Hei: Gary, it’s been a pleasure for me, too, every time. Thanks very much.


Host: Hey, thanks for sticking around. I had such a good time talking with Mark Vande Hei. He’s an example of what an astronaut, a long-duration astronaut, should be in his humility and his approach to, to his day-to-day life on the International Space Station. What a pleasure it was talking to him. He’s a five-time all-star of Houston We Have a Podcast. It was a pleasure to get to talk to him for a fifth time. If you want to go back and listen to all the Vande Hei episodes, in order, they are episodes 13, 15, 94, 190, and then this episode, 245. We are one of many podcasts across NASA at If you want to talk to us specifically, go to the NASA Johnson Space Center pages of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and then if you go to you can check out some of the many shows that we have across the agency. On social, if you use the hashtag #AskNASA on your favorite platform to submit an idea or ask a question, you can make sure to mention it’s for us at Houston We Have a Podcast, and we’ll take a look at that. This episode was recorded May 5th, 2022. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Pat Ryan, Heidi Lavelle, Belinda Pulido, Beth Weissinger, Megan Dean and Jaden Jennings. And of course a big thanks to Mark Vande Hei for taking the time to come on the show. Give us a rating and feedback on whatever platform you are listening to us on and tell us what you think of our podcast. We’ll be back next week.