Watch Record-Setting NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Return to Earth Tonight

Watch Record-Setting NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Return to Earth Tonight

The astronauts checked out of the space station on the Soyuz spacecraft hours earlier and landed safely in Kazakhstan shortly after sunrise, around 9:21 pm in the US.

Instead, the European Space Agency offered to transport Whitson and Fischer to Cologne, Germany, where they will meet up with the NASA plane for the final leg of their journey.

The crew will participate in standard post-flight medical evaluations.

It marked the end for the Expedition 52 crew, which had manned the space station together since April.

The astronaut has said she is unsure whether this most recent space mission will be her last.

Whitson's 665 days off the planet - 288 days on this mission alone - exceeded the duration time of any other American astronaut, and any other woman astronaut worldwide.

NASA all-time space champ Peggy Whitson is back on Earth after a record-breaking flight. Stepping in to help out, the European Space Agency volunteered to fly the USA astronauts to Cologne, Germany, where the NASA jet will meet them for the long flight back to storm-ravaged Houston.

Fischer returned after 136 days away. Only seven Russian men have logged more time, including Gennady Padalka, the world record-holder with 878 days in orbit.

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Russian Fyodor Yurchijin and Americans Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson, members of 52nd expedition to the ISS, landed at 7.21 a.m., near a remote area in Dzhezkazgan, reports Efe news.

The next three spacefliers - NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin - are due for launch to the space station from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 12.

On Friday, Yurchikhin will hand over station command to NASA's Randy Bresnik.

With the departure of the Soyuz MS-04 crew, "we lose 1,474 days worth of spaceflight experience", Bresnik said. "I love being up here".

She also looked forward to using a regular flushing toilet again, she added. "It's one of the most gratifying jobs I've ever had".

"Trust me, you don't want to know the details", she said via email in response to questions from The Associated Press.

For the next year or so, the station's six-member crew will feature two cosmonauts and four USOS crew members.

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