REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – After more than a year in space, Astronaut visits home of Army space.
Army astronaut Col. (Dr.) Frank Rubio visited the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command headquarters at Redstone Arsenal on Dec. 13. He visited with several staff sections and gave a presentation on his time aboard the International Space Station.
“This is actually my first time here at the headquarters,” Rubio said. “It is awesome. The people are incredibly supportive and kind. Just to be able to say ‘Thank You’ to so many people who have supported us and done so much for us as a detachment.
“It really is an honor to be here, especially around the holidays,” he added. “To be able to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to the team is great. It’s like coming home to family, even though it is my first time here.”
Rubio launched on Sept. 22, 2022, for the ISS to serve as a flight engineer for Expedition 68 for what he thought would be a six-month mission. He ended up serving on the ISS for 371 days. When he returned to Earth, Sept. 27, he had broken the previous record for a U.S. astronaut’s continuous mission in space that was set in 2022 by astronaut Mark Vande Hei, a retired Army colonel.
Because of his extended stay, Rubio also served as a flight engineer for Expedition 69. During his mission, he participated in or helped facilitate numerous research investigations and technology demonstrations not possible on Earth. Among these included: deploying CubeSats; tending to orbital tomatoes; conducting combustion experiments; working on science hardware supporting different space biology experiments; using interfaces and virtual reality to command and control surface-bound robots from long distances; conducted three space walks; and numerous other experiments.
While engaging with USASMDC teammates during his visit, Rubio discussed his Army and NASA service and the mission of the NASA Detachment for Army astronauts in Houston.
“I want to give a huge and sincere ‘thank you’ for all of what the SMDC team does, not for just our detachment, but also for our nation and keeping the world safe,” Rubio said. “I hope everyone has a blessed and Merry Christmas.”
Makenzie Fogle, an electrical engineer with the SMDC Technical Center’s Concepts Analysis Division, said that although the command is known for its work in cutting edge space technology, it is still exciting when an actual astronaut comes to town.
“Meeting an astronaut is really cool,” Fogle said. “My grandad worked at NASA, so I have known about the space program all my life, but I’ve never met an astronaut before.
“I enjoyed hearing about the whole process from his training, launching and all the way to returning home,” she added. “He also talked about seeing the aurora borealis from space. I never thought about what it would look like and that was really interesting. It was really a great presentation.”
Another teammate said Rubio was very personable and talked like being in space is just another day.
“Meeting our astronaut was out of this world,” said Maura Mulligan, a computer engineer with the Technical Center’s Concepts and Analysis Division. “I’ve seen a launch from Kennedy Space Center before and I’ve seen astronauts in movies and TV, but talking to someone who has actually experienced it is pretty surreal.
“It was really cool to listen to his experience and how he wants to go back into space again,” she added. “It was interesting to see his presentation of him and the other astronauts on the ISS interacting and celebrating holidays and birthdays while trying to keep some semblance of home life while in space.”
Rubio graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1998 and was selected by NASA for the 2017 astronaut candidate class. Through the years, 18 Army astronauts and one payload specialist have been selected by NASA, with Rubio being the 18th to fly into space.