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Record-Breaking Army Astronaut Receives Rare Qualification Device

WASHINGTON — Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth awarded Col. Frank Rubio the Army Astronaut Device during a pinning ceremony at the Pentagon today.

Rubio spent 371 days aboard the International Space Station from 2022-2023 breaking the record for the longest spaceflight for an American astronaut.

“Col. Rubio, you are a stellar example of the Army’s core values and what it means to lead a life of service,” Wormuth said. “You inspired audiences around the world as you orbited the Earth for 371 days, and now, back on Earth, you continue to inspire others as you share your experience with the public.”

The Army awards the astronaut device to personnel who complete at least one operational mission in space. With the award, Rubio joins Col. Anne McClain and Col. Andrew Morgan as the only active-duty Soldiers authorized to wear the device.

Army astronauts choose which specialty badge the device is placed on for their uniform. Rubio will wear his on his senior aviator badge.

A former UH-60 Black Hawk pilot, Rubio flew more than 600 combat flight hours during several overseas deployments. He then transitioned to the medical field as a family physician and flight surgeon before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2017.

He served as a flight engineer for Expeditions 68 and 69, supporting numerous research projects including particle vibration experiments, biological testing and 3D tissue printing while also performing three spacewalks outside of the station.

“What an incredible honor it is to represent the Army,” Rubio said. “And honestly, the biggest honor for me out of this badge is the fact that to me it’s the ultimate team badge. You absolutely cannot get to space on your own. It takes a team of thousands to get you to space.”

Rubio launched into space Sept. 21, 2022 aboard a Russin Soyuz spacecraft alongside cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin. The crew’s initial six-month mission was pushed into a year-long stay following a space debris strike that caused their return capsule to lose all its coolant.

The trio logged more than 157 million miles during the mission and circled the globe nearly 6,000 times until finally returning to earth Sept. 27, 2023.

Back home, Rubio plans to continue working with NASA as they further their mission and he hopes to eventually return to space one day.

“There [are] few things where you can say ‘my job represents humanity,’ and that is a powerful thing to be a part of,” he said. “It’s just such an incredible experience to be able to inspire the next generation, contribute to science, technologies that we’re developing that [are] going to help humanity in ways that we probably can’t imagine right now.”

The Army has worked closely with NASA to advance space exploration since the beginning of the U.S. space program, and that partnership has produced 19 Army astronauts.

“These uniquely skilled and extremely qualified people represent the very best and most talented officers and warrant officers from within the Army,” Wormuth said. “As we humans explore further into space, and NASA returns to the moon and sets its sights beyond to Mars, the Army will continue to play an important role in the exploration of space long into the future. And we will build on the research that Col. Rubio did on the International Space Station for 371 record-setting days.”

Story by Christopher Hurd, Army News Service

Photos by SFC Nicole Mejia and Deonte Rowell

3 Responses to “Record-Breaking Army Astronaut Receives Rare Qualification Device”

  1. Mike says:

    Great accomplishment by this soldier.

    But I think it was a lost opportunity when the military astronauts were left in their current services when Space Force was established. Yes, Space Force doesn’t fly in space – they sit in buildings and operate satellites. But if we’re going to create the new service, give them something to aspire to. When military officers qualify as astronauts, they should transfer over to Space Force. Some day – a hundred years from now? – we will be sending military personnel into space regularly. How can Space Force not stake a claim to be the service that leads the way?

  2. He made two trips to space and spent 371 days up there, and it looks like he got Senior wings. I wonder what you have to do to get Master wings??

  3. He made two trips to space and spent 371 days up there and 157 million miles, and it looks like he got Senior wings. I wonder what you have to do to get Master wings??

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