The latest group of astronauts from the International Space Station, two Americans and a Russian, has returned to Earth and among them is a multiple record-breaker.
Biochemist Peggy Whitson spent 288 days in command of the ISS, her second stint in charge, making her the only woman to lead the mission twice. It brings her total days in space to 665, longer than any other American and the longest for any female astronaut.
She also completed her 10th spacewalk, again a female record, and aged 57 she is also the world’s oldest spacewoman.
During her third mission aboard the station, Whitson spent much of her time on experiments, including studies of cancerous lung tissue and bone cells. She also delighted crewmates by experimenting with the monotonous rations. On her watch, tortillas were metamorphosised into apple pies, among other delicacies.
In April, Whitson broke the 534-day U.S. record for cumulative time in space. Only seven Russian men have logged more time, including Gennady Padalka, the world record-holder with 878 days in orbit.
Whitson, who grew up on a farm in Iowa, said she was inspired by the U.S. Apollo program that landed men on the moon, but it was not until later, when the first women become astronauts, that she set her sights on joining them. She became an astronaut in 1996, 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.
Three men remain at the space station: an American, a Russian and an Italian. They will be joined by two Americans and a Russian in a flight scheduled for September 12.