Peggy Whitson, NASA’s record-breaking astronaut who has spent the most time in space of any American, has returned to Earth.
Whitson, 57, landed in Kazakhstan at 9.21pm EDT on Saturday, September 2, along with Jack Fischer (43), also of NASA, and Fyodor Yurchikhin (58) of Roscosmos. They traveled back to Earth in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the International Space Station (ISS).
Whitson had spent 288 days aboard the ISS on her third mission there, giving her a total of 665 days in space – the most for any US astronaut, and the eighth most of any nationality. She was the commander of Expedition 51, which began on April 10 and ended on June 2, 2017.
Fischer and Yurchikhin had both spent 136 days on board. This was the former’s first foray into space, while the latter has 673 days in space, placing him just above Whitson at seventh on the all-time list.
“We are in your debt for the supreme dedication that you guys have to the human mission of exploration,” said NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, the new commander of the station following Whitson’s departure. He also somewhat oddly called Whitston an “American space ninja”.
Whitson, for her part, tends to shy away from the attention. In an interview with the Associated Press, she said she was “not overly comfortable with the praise about the records,” noting that we should always be striving to do more.
“I feel lucky to have been in a position to take advantage of the opportunities that I have had, and yet I do acknowledge that my dedication and work ethic helped put me in those positions,” she said.
During their time on the station, the three saw the arrival of seven cargo spacecraft, including SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and Russia’s Progress vehicle. They performed plenty of research, including investigating changes to astronaut’s eyes while in microgravity, studying lung tissue, and installing a new detector on the outside of the station to detect cosmic rays.
Whitson said she was most looking forward to pizza and flushing toilets (“you don’t want to know the details”) on her return to Earth. But she noted she would miss the stunning views of Earth from space, and also the freedom of floating (“gravity will especially SUCK”).
There are now just three people aboard the ISS: Bresnik, Russian Sergey Ryazansky, and Italian Paolo Nespoli. They will be joined by Russian Alexander Misurkin and Americans Mark Vande Hei and Joseph Acaba after they launch on September 12.