NASA astronaut and Iowa native Peggy Whitson returns to Earth Saturday

NASA astronaut and Iowa native Peggy Whitson returns to Earth Saturday

The Soyuz capsule - containing Whitson, 57, rookie United States astronaut Jack Fischer and veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin - made a parachute touchdown at 7:21 a.m., local Kazakh time. The crew is also set to go through a standard post-flight medical evaluations. She then received a bouquet of flowers with the greeting, "Welcome back, Peggy".

Peggy Whitson has been living in space since November, clocking up 288 days. Stepping in to help out, the European Space Agency volunteered to fly the USA astronauts to Cologne, Germany, where the NASA jet will meet them for the long flight back to storm-ravaged Houston.

Fellow expedition crew member cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin has clocked up 673 days in space after five flights. "The crewmembers who are to return to the earth have left the space station and are now on board the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft", the official said.

All three briefly held hands for a photo opportunity before being carried one by one in their chairs to the medical tent.

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson, NASA Astronaut Jack "2fish" Fischer, and Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin return to Earth after 288 days in space for Whitson and 136 days in space for Fischer and Yurchikhin.

In April, Whitson broke the 534-day US record for cumulative time in space. And, Russian ISS Progress cargo spacecraft docked to the station in February and June. During her stay, she set a new record for the most cumulative time in space by an American with 665 days accrued.

"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. During her latest mission, Whitson performed four spacewalks, bringing her career total to 10.

At 57, Whitson is the oldest woman to have been in space. This was her third flight. Yurchikhin and Fischer arrived to the ISS on April 20, 2017, and their mission lasted 135 days. The men flew up in April.

Whitson and Fischer are due back in Houston on Sunday. He offered up special praise for Whitson - "American space ninja" - and wished them all Godspeed. The trio will land in Kazakhstan at 9:22 pm EDT.

During her third mission on ISS - extended to nine months after Russian Federation scaled back its deployments - Whitson conducted experiments, including studies of cancerous lung tissue and bone cells. Only seven Russian men have logged more time, including Gennady Padalka, the world record-holder with 878 days in orbit.

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