Astronaut Peggy Whitson returned to Earth late Saturday, wrapping up a record-breaking flight that catapulted her to first place for US space endurance. Whitson's 665 days off the planet—288 days on this mission alone—exceeds that of any other American and any other woman worldwide. She checked out of the International Space Station just hours earlier, along with another American and a Russian, reports the AP. Their Soyuz capsule landed in Kazakhstan shortly after sunrise Sunday. The journey back to Earth took three hours and 24 minutes, notes Space.com. Besides duration, Whitson set multiple other records while in orbit: world's oldest spacewoman, at age 57, and most experienced female spacewalker, with 10. She also became the first woman to command the space station twice following her launch last November.
Returning cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin logged even more time in space: 673 days over five missions. NASA astronaut Jack Fischer returned after 136 days aloft. The station's newest commander, Randy Bresnik, called Whitson an "American space ninja." Yurchikhin is now No. 7 on the world's all-time endurance list, followed by Whitson at No. 8. Whitson, a biochemist, set a breakneck pace on all three of her space station expeditions, continually asking for more—and still more—scientific research to do. Scientists on the ground said it often was hard to keep up with her. She even experimented on food, trying to add pizazz to standard freeze-dried meals. Except for the past week, Whitson said her mission hurried by. She's hungry for pizza and eager to reunite with her husband, Clarence Sams, a biochemist who works at Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Read more Peggy Whitson stories.)