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Russian cosmonaut sets world record for most time in space

Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos is seen outside the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft after he landed near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on June 25, 2019. On Sunday, Kononenko broke the world record for most time in space, clocking in at more than 878 days. File NASA Photo by Bill Ingalls/UPI
Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos is seen outside the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft after he landed near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on June 25, 2019. On Sunday, Kononenko broke the world record for most time in space, clocking in at more than 878 days. File NASA Photo by Bill Ingalls/UPI

Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko has set a world record for the most time in space, clocking in at more than 878 days Sunday -- nearly two-and-a-half years -- as he celebrated the milestone from the International Space Station.

"I fly into space to do what I love, not to set records," Kononenko told the Russian news agency TASS. "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."

Kononenko, 59, surpassed Gennady Padalka who spent 878 days, 11 hours, 29 minutes and 48 seconds outside of the Earth's atmosphere before retiring in 2017. By the time Kononenko returns to Earth in late September, he will have spent a total of 1,110 days in space.

"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," Kononenko said.

Kononenko, who is the commander of the Russian space agency Roscosmos cosmonaut corps, took his first trip to space 16 years ago in 2008.

International Space Station Expedition 58 prime crew members, left to right, Flight Engineer Anne McClain of NASA, Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) pose for a photo at the conclusion of a press conference, on December 2, 2018, at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Kononenko has spent more time in space than any other cosmonaut or astronaut. File NASA Photo by Aubrey Gemignani/UPI

Kononenko's current mission aboard the space station is his fifth and will last about a year, according to NASA. Shortly after he arrived at ISS on Sept. 15, 2023, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio returned to Earth setting a record for his 371-day space mission.

In October, Kononenko took part in a nearly 7-hour long spacewalk to position two solar panels that did not deploy properly on a mini radar system, while also locating the source of a radiator leak on the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module.

Expedition 44 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has his Russian Sokol suit pressure checked in preparation for launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft on Wednesday, July 22, 2015, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. File NASA photo by Aubrey Gemignani/UPI
Expedition 44 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has his Russian Sokol suit pressure checked in preparation for launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft on Wednesday, July 22, 2015, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. File NASA photo by Aubrey Gemignani/UPI

While Kononenko said he stays connected to his family through video calls during his long trips to space, he said not seeing his children is difficult.

"It is only upon returning home that the realization comes that for hundreds of days in my absence the children have been growing up without a papa," he said. "No one will return this time to me."

Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, Expedition 17 flight engineer, dressed in his Russian Orlan space suit, participates in a full dress rehearsal spacewalk at the International Space Station. Kononenko broke the world record for the most time spent in space Sunday, saying “I fly into space to do what I love, not to set records." File Photo by UPI/NASA