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.
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.
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."