astronaut floating in space

How long do astronauts stay in space?

Last Updated: July 11, 2022

The International Space Station has been running continuously for about 22 years now. On November 2, 2000, NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev were the first people to step into the station. Since then, many astronauts have called the space station home for varying lengths of time.

In this article, we’ll explore how long astronauts typically stay in space and what they do while they’re there.

What is the average duration of a space mission?

Astronauts usually stay on the space station for about six months. The length of an astronaut’s space mission is usually decided by the space agency that they work for. There are currently 77 government space agencies worldwide, the six most prominent being:

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • The Russian State Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS)
  • The European Space Agency (ESA)
  • The China National Space Administration (CNSA)
  • The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
  • The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)

The typical length of a space mission is also affected by the type of mission it is. For example, some missions are designed for research purposes and require astronauts to stay in space for long periods of time, while others are shorter and focus on maintenance or transportation.

astronaut holding a tablet

What do astronauts do while they're in space?

Astronauts have a lot of different responsibilities while they’re in space. The main purpose of the space station is to serve as a platform for research. Astronauts conduct all kinds of experiments on the space station, from studying plant growth to testing new medical technologies. They also maintain the space station, conduct spacewalks to replace broken parts, and act as a liaison between ground control and the crew.

In addition to their work responsibilities, astronauts also have to take care of themselves. They eat, sleep, and exercise on the space station, just like they would on Earth.

Since their space mission can last for several months, astronauts have to find ways to stay entertained and connected to their families and friends back home. They can watch movies, read books, listen to music, and even use video games for their training. And thanks to advances in technology, they can easily stay in touch with their loved ones via email, social media, and video chat.

How long can an astronaut safely stay in space?

There is no definitive answer to this question. The longest space mission on record was 437 days long, and it was completed by Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov in 1994. However, there have been several instances of astronauts spending almost a year in space in recent years, notably Scott Kelly who completed a 340-day mission in 2016 and Mark Vande Hei, who completed a 355-day mission in 2021.

The main concern with long-duration space missions is the health of the astronauts. The implicit limit to the duration of an astronaut’s stay in space is linked to the risk associated with long-term exposure to microgravity and cosmic radiation.

The human body is not designed to live in microgravity for extended periods of time, so astronauts have to be careful to maintain their health while they’re in space. Even after astronauts land back on earth, their bodies need time to readapt to the Earth’s gravity.

There can be long-term effects on their bodies. Exercise scientist Leigh Gabel said that astronauts who have stayed on the ISS for more than 6 months experienced a decade’s worth of long-term bone loss in their shinbones (tibias).

astronaut Scott Kelly on the ISS

Record holders for the longest single space flight duration

The below table lists the astronauts who have spent the longest time in space on a single mission.
RankAstronautTotal time spent in spaceNumber of missions
1Gennady Padalka878.485
2Yuri Malenchenko827.3896
3Sergei Krikalev803.3716
4Aleksandr Kaleri769.2765
5Sergei Avdeyev747.5933
6Oleg Kononenko736.784
7Anton Shkaplerov709.3364
8Valeri Polyakov678.692
9Fyodor Yurchikhin672.865
10Peggy Whitson665.9323

Record holders for the longest total time spent in space

The table below shows the astronauts who have spent the most time in space over the course of their careers.

RankAstronautTotal time spent in spaceNumber of missions
1Gennady Padalka878.485
2Yuri Malenchenko827.3896
3Sergei Krikalev803.3716
4Aleksandr Kaleri769.2765
5Sergei Avdeyev747.5933
6Oleg Kononenko736.784
7Anton Shkaplerov709.3364
8Valeri Polyakov678.692
9Fyodor Yurchikhin672.865
10Peggy Whitson665.9323
Tom Urbain

Written by Tom Urbain

Space exploration has been a fascinating subject for me since a very young age. As a child, astronauts were my heroes, so it was inevitable that a part of my website would be dedicated to astronauts and their space missions.

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