Sun, Sep 03, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Astronaut Peggy Whitson returning to Earth with an unmatched space record

AP, CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida

Astronaut Peggy Whitson is closing out a space streak unmatched by any other American.

The world’s most experienced spacewoman is due back on Earth this weekend following nine-and-a-half months on the International Space Station.

Counting all her flights, she will have logged 665 days in space.

First stop yesterday was to be Kazakhstan as usual for a Russian Soyuz capsule touchdown, then a brief detour to Germany before heading home to storm-crippled Houston, Texas.

During her third and latest mission, which began in November last year, the 57-year-old biochemist became the oldest woman in space. She performed her 10th spacewalk, more than any other woman, and she became the first woman to command the space station twice.

On Friday, the eve of her landing, Whitson said she was craving pizza and flush toilets.

“Trust me, you don’t want to know the details,” she said via e-mail.

A formal news conference was canceled earlier in the week because of the storm, so e-mail responses were the next best thing.

She said her home in Houston was fine, but so many friends and coworkers were not as fortunate.

Johnson Space Center in Houston remains closed until Tuesday except for essential personnel, such as those staffing Mission Control for the space station.

She said the team was sleeping on cots at the space center at one point.

“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.

Most of the flight went by quickly, she said, although the past week has seemed to drag by.

“Once the switch is thrown to go home, time seems to move a lot slower,” she wrote.

Whitson said she will “hugely miss the freedom of floating and moving with the lightest of touch, especially those first few days after my return when gravity will especially suck.”

She also will miss “the ability to ‘go for a walk’ in a spaceship built for one,” a reference to her spacesuit, and seeing “the enchantingly peaceful limb of our Earth” from on high.

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

This flight alone lasted 288 days, much longer than intended. A seat opened up on a Soyuz capsule, and NASA took advantage of it to keep her in orbit three extra months.

Only one other American — yearlong spaceman Scott Kelly — has spent more time off the planet in a single shot.

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