Scott Kelly returns to Earth with a bump and a thumbs-up after record ISS stint

Kelly and crewmate Mikhail Kornienko have spent 340 days in space, the longest mission since Valeri Polyakov spent 437 days aboard Mir in 1995

He landed with a bump in the mid-morning sun, the vast Kazakh steppe his first contact with Earth after a year in space devoted to medical tests, commanding the International Space Station and chasing his crew around in a gorilla suit.

Nasas Scott Kelly gave a thumbs-up as ground crew carried him and his fellow travellers, the Russians Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov, from the Soyuz capsule and gently lowered them into chairs where they warmed themselves beneath thick, dark blankets.

The air feels great out here, Kelly said to the men in big coats and hats who had come to his assistance. I have no idea why you guys are all bundled up.

The touchdown, at 10.26am local time on Wednesday, wrapped up a 340-day mission for Kelly, who enters the record books as the first US astronaut to spend so long in space. No-one has flown a longer mission than Kelly and Kornienko in more than 20 years. It was 1995 when Valeri Polyakov spent 437 days aboard Mir and so set the all-time record.

Officially named the One Year Mission, Kellys mammoth stint on the space station had a clear and concrete purpose. Having set its sights on sending humans to Mars, Nasa must now work out how to get them there safely. Rocket science is one thing. Keeping humans fit and well while weightless, exposed to radiation and in isolation for months on end, is another.

Scott Kelly gives the thumbs-up after landing near the town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday Photograph: Bill Ingalls/AP

Since he blasted off on 28 March 2015, Kelly has become more orbiting phenomenon than astronaut. His photographs of landscapes, the red aurora, the Milky Way, and a good number of the 5,000 sunrises he witnessed from space, drew nearly a million Twitter followers. But snapshots from space are a familiar feast today. What made Kelly stand out were his antics.

One small bite for man, one giant leap for #NASAVEGGIE, said one tweet after he nurtured, and then ate some lettuce in space. The venture into orbital farming was only eclipsed by his struggle to get sunflower-like zinnias to grow in zero gravity. The outlook did not look good in December when he shared a picture of limp green sprigs. Our plants arent looking too good. Would be a problem on Mars. Im going to have to channel my inner Mark Watney, he tweeted, a reference to Matt Damons ingenious astronaut-botanist in The Martian, who ekes out his potato rations by growing more in human poo.

And then there was the bizarre. Last month, a video showed Kelly clambering out of a large bag in a gorilla suit and chasing British astronaut Tim Peake around the space station. The 20 seconds of footage was set to the Benny Hill theme tune. Every time Kelly appeared, he was apparently having fun.

Read more: