A new space record has been spent by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka! After 198 days aboard Mir and four expeditions to the International Space Station, he has now logged an astounding 879 days (or roughly two and a half years) in orbit, traveling a reported 70,000,000 miles around the earth. The previous record was held by another Russian, Sergei Krikalev, who recorded some 804 days over six separate missions before retiring in 2007.
Though Krikalev is not likely to participate in future spaceflights, Padalka remains an active cosmonaut, raising the intriguing possibility of future record-setting spaceflights. However, the trend seems to be turning against new records due to a combination of factors, including space technology automation and NASA’s human spaceflight de-emphasizing “faster, better, cheaper” missions. In fact, the longest single-duration time in space record (437.7 days) was set back in 1995 by cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, and the longest solo flight (4 days 23 hours) was set all the way back in 1963.
What about other records, including human distance from earth, lunar orbit/surface records, highest non-lunar altitude and speed records? They are also unlikely to change anytime soon, as these were all set during the long-defunct Apollo and Gemini programs. Similarly, the youngest men and women to reach suborbital or orbital spaceflight were all set during a narrow period of time between 1961 and 1968.
Whether this achievement stagnation comes from the risk-avoidance or a maturing mentality towards spaceflight, the heavens above beg for exploration. I’d like to see NASA and other space agencies Padalka’s lead and start setting some new records again.