A Russian cosmonaut set a world record for the most time spent in space on Sunday, logging more than 878 days, or nearly two-and-a-half years.
As of 0830 GMT, Oleg Kononenko surpassed the record set by compatriot Gennady Padalka, according to Russian space corporation Roscosmos. Padalka logged 878 days, 11 hours, 29 minutes and 48 seconds during five space flights before retiring in 2017.
Kononenko, 59, broke the record while orbiting 263 miles (423 km) from Earth during his fifth space flight. “I fly into space to do my favorite thing, not to set records,” he told state news agency Tass in an interview from the International Space Station (ISS).
“I am proud of all my achievements, but I am most proud that the record for the total duration of a human stay in space is still held by a Russian cosmonaut,” said Kononenko, who is the commander of Roscosmos.
His current spaceflight is scheduled to end at the end of September, by which time he will have logged 1,110 days in space.
He began his space career as an engineer, according to to the European Space Agency, and began training as an astronaut at age 34 after joining the group selected for the ISS program. His first space flight took place soon after, in April 2008, and lasted 200 days.
Kononenko told Tass that video calls and messages allowed him to stay in touch, but that it was upon returning to Earth that he realized how much of life he had missed.
“It is only upon returning home that the realization comes that the children have grown up without a father for hundreds of days in my absence,” he said. “No one will return to me this time.”
He also said he exercised regularly in an attempt to counteract the physical effects of “insidious” weightlessness. “I don’t feel deprived or isolated,” he said.
His five space flights spanned 16 years, during which advances in technology made preparation for each flight more difficult, he said. “The profession of an astronaut is becoming more and more complicated. The systems and experiments become more complicated. I repeat, the preparation has not become easier.”
The ISS is one of the few international projects in which Washington and Moscow are proceeding to work together now since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Roscosmos said in December that a cross-flight program with NASA had been extended until 2025.
The reliability of Russia’s space program, historically the pride of the country, has come into question in recent years. The Russian segment of the ISS has its third coolant leak in less than a year in October, indicating what analysts described as a besiege space sector struggling to turn itself around after years of funding shortfalls, failures and corruption scandals.
Reuters contributed to this report