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Former astronaut helps break flight record over poles

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A former astronaut is back at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after helping to shatter a pair of records for a round-the-world airplane flight over the North and South poles.

Terry Virts was part of the team whose 46-hour, 39-minute and 38-second polar circumnavigation flight ended Thursday where it began. They set the duration and speed records in a Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER aircraft. Their average speed was 535 mph (861 kph).

Dubbed “One More Orbit,” the flight paid homage to next week’s 50th anniversary of humanity’s first moon landing.

Virts’ former space station crewmate, Russian Gennady Padalka, was on the first two legs of the flight. Padalka, the world’s space champ with 879 days in orbit, left during a fueling stop. Virts says the fueling stops were “NASCAR pit-stop intense.”

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