Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft with three crew members starts deorbiting burn

Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft with three crew members starts deorbiting burn

Expedition 52 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA, Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA float through the Harmony module of the International Space Station.

Their Soyuz capsule landed in Kazakhstan shortly after sunrise Sunday - Saturday night back in the U.S.

"It's one of the most gratifying jobs I've ever had", Whitson said, during an inflight interview on Monday. It is expected to touch down southeast of Kazakhstan's Zhezkazgan at 4:22 Moscow time.

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This flight alone lasted 288 days, much longer than intended. During her expeditions, she continually asked for more scientific research to do. Whitson's departure ends her 288 day mission aboard the ISS, a stretch that gives her the record for the most cumulative time spent in space.

Back at the space station, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky will be the only three crewmembers on board until September 12, when the Expedition 52/53 crewmembers arrive. It was the second longest single flight by a USA astronaut, only surpassed by Scott Kelly, who spent 340 days on the orbiting laboratory from March 2015 to March 2016. During the mission, she performed a spacewalk and also become the first woman to command the space station twice.

Also accompanying Whitson and Yurchikhin on their way home is United States astronaut Jack Fischer, who will have spent 136 cumulative days in orbit on touchdown.

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Soyuz MS-04 was the 50th Soyuz to fly to the International Space Station. Only seven Russian men have logged more time, including Gennady Padalka, the world record-holder with 878 days in orbit.

Watch Whitson, Yurchikhin and Fischer's return in real time via NASA's live feed below. "I love being up here". "Trust me, you don't want to know the details", she joked. "Having three more months to squeeze is just what I would wish for".

"I honestly do think that it is critical that we are continuously breaking records, because that represents us moving forward in exploration", she said.

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During the interim, thanks to Whitson's extended mission, US research that otherwise would have been sharply curtailed was able to continue.

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