Kelly made it back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, at around 2:16 a.m. Thursday morning, where he was greeted by Dr. Jill Biden and an enthusiastic crowd of America’s space community.
“It’s great to be back,” Kelly said, after hugging his family and friends. “There’s no greater privilege than serving your country however and wherever you might do it. This mission is the latest achievement in our country’s space program, but it’s not the last. There will be more. It’s in our DNA of our country to explore and we must never stop doing this; we must lead, we must learn, and we must discover.”
John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor, also welcomed Kelly home, noting that his record-breaking trip reinforces the United States’ commitment to put a man or woman on Mars.
“You have noted that it was NASA’s achievement, it was the whole country’s achievement, but you were out there at the tip of the spear,” Holdren told Kelly. “You have, your whole career, set an example that’s an inspiration to our young people, it’s an inspiration to the country, it’s an inspiration to the whole world.”
Kelly’s flight had some delays, but fellow NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren showed the Second Lady around the Johnson Center while they were waiting. Dr. Biden brought Kelly a gift of President Obama’s home-brewed beer and an apple pie.
“Sorry it took us so long,” he joked. “I’m used to going 17,500 miles per hour and this airplane doesn’t do quite that.”
The real highlight in Houston was Kelly’s reunion with his friends and family. His girlfriend, children, and twin brother Mark were all waiting for him at Johnson. He didn’t have long — as soon as the plane touched down, Kelly had about 20 minutes before he had to get into the lab to start the next step of his mission. Scott and Mark will be seeing a lot of each other in the coming months, as they’re in for a shitload of science to find out what Kelly’s year long space trip did to his body.
Kelly couldn’t immediately greet his family, as he had to go through customs. To be fair, he had been in Kazakhstan, but it turns out the U.S. government treats a return from space just like it does any other foreign country. Technically, if Kelly forgot to declare some memento from the ISS in one of his pockets, it could also make him one of the first space smugglers. After a brief press conference, Kelly headed off to the crew quarters to start his medical check ups and next stage of his mission.