Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko has set a new world record for the most time spent in space.
The 59-year-old clocked up a cumulative total of more than 878 days and 12 hours outside the Earth’s atmosphere – the equivalent of nearly two-and-a-half years – on Sunday morning.
Mr Kononenko celebrated the milestone on board the International Space Station (ISS), which he has travelled to five times since 2008.
“I fly into space to do what I love, not to set records. I’ve dreamt of and aspired to become a cosmonaut since I was a child.
“That interest – the opportunity to fly into space, to live and work in orbit – motivates me to continue flying,” he told Russian news agency TASS.
Mr Kononenko added: “I am proud of all my achievements, but I am more proud that the record for the total duration of human stay in space is still held by a Russian cosmonaut.”
The cosmonaut is expected to reach a total of 1,000 days in space on 5 June.
By late September he will have been up in space for 1,110 days – the equivalent of just over three years.
His current trip to the ISS began on 15 September last year, when he launched alongside NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara and Roscosmos compatriot Nikolai Chub.
‘No one will return this time to me’
Mr Kononenko said video calls to relatives back home and regular exercise on board meant he did not feel “deprived or isolated”.
But he added: “It is only upon returning home that the realisation comes that for hundreds of days in my absence the children have been growing up without a papa. No one will return this time to me.”
Mr Kononenko is the latest in a long line of cosmonaut trailblazers, including Yuri Gagarin, who was the first man to travel into space in 1961.
His achievement tops the record set by his fellow countryman Gennady Padalka, who clocked up a total of 878 days, 11 hours, 29 minutes, and 48 seconds in space in 2015.
Russia’s space programme suffered a slump following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but officials in President Vladimir Putin’s administration have since been keen to revive it to its former glory.
The ISS is one of the few international projects in which the US and Russia still cooperate closely despite tensions over the war in Ukraine and ongoing sanctions.
Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said in December that its cross-flight programme with NASA to the ISS had been extended until 2025.
The space station travels 263 miles (423 km) above Earth at a speed of five miles per second. It orbits the planet about once every 90 minutes.