Soyuz spacecraft returns to Earth

NASA astronaut and biochemist Peggy Whitson will return to Earth as the planet's new record holder for longest time cumulatively spent on space by an American or a woman this weekend, touching down in a Russian Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan at 7:22am local time (9:22pm Eastern).

Whitson and her crew members, including United States astronaut Jack Fischer, are heading for a landing in Kazakhstan.

Whitson became an astronaut in 1996 and was the first woman to command the space station and also the first woman and first non-pilot to serve as chief of the NASA Astronaut Corps.

Whitson and two other astronauts landed in Kazakhstan late Saturday, U.S. time.

"Any trepidations I might have about returning in the aftermath of a hurricane are entirely eclipsed by the all those folks keeping our mission going", she said. "I would say the slowest time has been the last week or so". Never stop learning. I dare you to dream! "Once the switch is thrown to go home, time seems to move a lot slower".

Throughout her third mission aboard the station, Whitson spent much of her time on experiments, including studies of cancerous lung tissue and bone cells. "I honestly do think that it is critical that we are continuously breaking records, because that represents us moving forward in exploration". She immediately received a pair of sunglasses to put on, as she rested in a chair on the barren, wind-swept Kazak steppes.

Whitson's return to Earth wrapped up a record-breaking flight that placed her in first place for U.S. space endurance. Yurchikhin and Fischer arrived at the orbiting lab in April.

Back at the space station, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky will be the only three crewmembers on board until September 12, when the Expedition 52/53 crewmembers arrive. 12 from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Russian video footage recorded the undocking from the ISS port, as the space station flew over south eastern Mongolia. Yurchikhin ranks seventh with 673 days aloft over five missions.

Fischer was the 550th person in history to orbit the Earth.

With the departure of the Soyuz MS-04 crew, "we lose 1,474 days worth of spaceflight experience", Bresnik said. From there, Yurchikhin will return to Star City outside of Moscow. After the devastating floods brought by Hurricane Harvey led NASA to close the center, the agency had to come up with a contingency plan for getting the astronauts home. It traveled a total of 57.5 million miles (92.5 million kilometers) over the course of 2,176 orbits of Earth.

  • Joey Payne