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Next stop Earth for NASA's space champ

03 September 2017

During her third mission aboard the station, Whitson spent much of her time on experiments, including studies of cancerous lung tissue and bone cells.

The space capsule coming in to land. She performed her 10th spacewalk, more than any other woman.

Whitson, 57, finished an extended stay of over nine months aboard the International Space Station, a $100 billion (USD) research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. She's hungry for pizza and can't wait to use a regular flush toilet again.

Except for the past week, Whitson said her mission hurried by. A formal news conference was canceled earlier in the week because of the storm, so email responses were the next-best thing. Johnson Space Center in Houston remains closed until Tuesday except for essential personnel, such as those staffing Mission Control for the space station. She is eighth on the all-time space endurance list, NASA said.

In a pre-landing interview, Whitson said that she's "not overly comfortable" with all the praise she's been getting about breaking space records - but was glad to play her part in the space effort.

Most of the flight went by quickly, she noted, although the last week has seemed to drag by. "I would say the slowest time has been the last week or so".

But, "I will miss seeing the enchantingly peaceful limb of our Earth from this vantage point".

"Until the end of my days, my eyes will search the horizon to see that curve", she wrote.

According to the Post, one of the colleagues returning with her has spent even longer in the aether: Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, who has cumulatively spent two more days aloft than Whitson at 673 days.

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Ms Whitson, a biochemist, had been due to return to Earth in June but when an extra place opened up, she couldn't resist another three months.

Russia's Yurchikhin holds the record for spending the longest duration of time in space.

"The best part, was that after we harvested for the science, we got to eat the rest!" she said of her greens.

After earning a doctorate in biochemistry in 1985, Whitson worked as a NASA scientist for seven years before starting as an astronaut in 1997. "638 days in space and the view is still incredible!" she tweeted.

Pictured clockwise from top right: Paolo Nespoli, Jack Fischer, Peggy Whitson, Sergey Ryazanskiy, Randy Bresnik and Fyodor Yurchikhin.

"The European Space Agency stepped up to the plate and offered the use of its plane that has been to Karaganda before", Navias said. They should be back in Houston on Sunday night.

What's next for Whitson?

Station officials would like nothing better.

Next stop Earth for NASA's space champ