Record-breaking US astronaut back on Earth after 288 days

AFP
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson touched down to Earth today, finishing a 288-day mission that made her the American who has spent the most cumulative amount of time in space.
AFP
Reuters

Member of the International Space Station crew Peggy Annette Whitson of the U.S. gets medical treatment shortly after the landing of the Soyuz MS-04 capsule in Kazakhstan September 3, 2017.

A record-shattering NASA astronaut touched down to Earth today, finishing a 288-day mission that put her over the top as the American who has spent the most cumulative amount of time in space.

Peggy Whitson, 57, also the oldest female astronaut in the history of space exploration, was the first female International Space Station commander, and holds the record for number of spacewalks (10) by a woman.

The biochemist completed a mission at the International Space Station that began in November 2016, covering 196.7 million kilometers and 4,623 orbits of Earth.

She and crewmates Jack Fischer of NASA and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russian space agency Roscosmos landed in Kazakhstan at 7:31am local time today in a Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft.

Whitson has racked up 665 days in space in her career, more than any other American astronaut. She is eighth on the all-time space endurance list, NASA said.

Her colleague Jack “2Fish” Fischer, 43, went into space as a rookie but has won over space-watchers with his boundless enthusiasm during his four-and-a-half months aboard the ISS.

He likened the feeling of his spacewalk with Whitson in May — the 200th ISS spacewalk — to a “ginormous fondue pot, bubbling over with piping hot awesomesauce.”

“Heading home soon I hope I infected a few of you with my passion for space. Never stop learning and growing. I dare you to dream!” he tweeted on Friday.

NASA footage showed Whitson brought out last from the capsule before being seated and handed flowers by a member of the crew at the landing site.

After earning a doctorate in biochemistry in 1985, Whitson worked as a NASA scientist for seven years before starting as an astronaut in 1997.

On this most recent mission, Whitson conducted experiments with human stem cells, blood samples and grew several crops of Chinese cabbage, according to posts on her Facebook page.

“The best part, was that after we harvested for the science, we got to eat the rest!” she said of her greens.

In an interview before departing the space station, Whitson said she was looking forward to flush toilets (“Trust me, you don’t want to know the details”) and pizza.

But, “I will miss seeing the enchantingly peaceful limb of our Earth from this vantage point. Until the end of my days, my eyes will search the horizon to see that curve,” she said, according to a transcript of the interview posted on the NASA website.

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