This weekend, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson touched down in Kazakhstan, ending her record-breaking mission aboard the International Space Station, a mission that lasted for more than nine months.
Whitson had completed two other long-duration missions, before this latest, which puts her at an unmatched total of 665 days in space, NASA reports. In other words, Whitson has lived in space longer than any American astronaut, ever, and has spent more time than any woman in orbit, in the world. She is also the only female astronaut to command the station twice.
638 days in space and the view is still amazing! Soaking up some sunset time in the cupola… pic.twitter.com/AiReQzkjJZ
— Peggy Whitson (@AstroPeggy) August 6, 2017
— NASA (@NASA) September 4, 2017
During their time aboard, NASA says, Whitson, a biochemist, and Fischer, an aeronautical engineer, “contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.” Their work included research into antibodies “that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment,” as well as looking into the changes that astronauts eyes undergo in an environment with so little gravity.”
At 57, Whitson is the most experienced female spacewalker, with 10 space walks, totaling 60 hours, 21 minutes, under her belt, says NASA reports. She is also the world’s oldest female astronaut. John Glenn set the age record for men in space when he flew aboard the space shuttle at 77 years.
Whitson was supposed to return home in June but “jumped at the chance to stay in orbit an extra three months,” when a seat on a later flight back to Earth opened up on Soyuz MS-04, according to the Associated Press. The Soyuz is a type of Russian spacecraft first developed early on in the Soviet space program. Since then, astronauts, cosmonauts and researchers have used the Soyuz to travel to and from the International Space Station on one model or another. Unlike the US space shuttle, the Soyuz MS-04 does not have wheels and does not land like an airplane.
Just 15 minutes before landing, four parachutes deploy to slow the spacecraft for a “softer” hard landing.
Over the telephone, President Trump congratulated astronauts Whitson and Fischer on their work, adding, “Exploration has always been at the core of who we are as Americans, and their brave contributions to human spaceflight have continued that great tradition.”