NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson's third stint living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has come to an end, with the celebrated station commander returning to Earth having spent more cumulative time in space than any US astronaut before her.

Whitson first ventured to the ISS in 2002 after beginning her astronaut training in 1996. Her first stay on the ISS lasted 184 days, a point in time when the station consisted of just four modules. During her next visit in 2008 Whitson would oversee the expansion of the ISS and make history as its first female commander.

When she returned to the ISS in November last year she did so again as commander, and in April of this year passed previous record holder Jeffrey Williams' time of 534 days, two hours and 48 minutes cumulative time in low-Earth orbit. Whitson touched down in Kazakhstan on Sunday with a total of 665 days in space under her belt, a US record and eighth on the all-time list for time spent in space.

But Whitson's achievements don't end there. During her time in space she also claimed several spacewalking records, including the most spacewalks of any female (10), the most total spacewalking time (60 hours and 21 minutes) of any female, and the third most spacewalking time of any astronaut. She is also the female astronaut to have spent the longest time in orbit during a single spaceflight (288 days).

Along with her spacefaring exploits, Whitson contributed to hundreds of scientific experiments in her time aboard the ISS. These included studies on things like the impact of microgravity on astronaut's eyes and lung tissue, plant physiology, and antibody investigations that could improve chemotherapy treatments for cancer.

Whitson landed in Kazakhstan near the remote town of Dzhezkazgan on Sunday evening, along with fellow NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos. Whitson and Fischer then flew to NASA's Johnson Space Center on the same day.

"I want to congratulate Peggy and Jack for their incredible accomplishments. They make us all very proud," said President Donald Trump. "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."

Source: NASA 1, 2

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