NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson just returned to Earth after spending 288 days aboard the International Space Station.
This latest mission puts her in the record books for spending the most time — 665 days — in space, more than any other American or any female astronaut in history.
Whitson touched down in Kazakhstan on Sunday local time,along with crewmates American astronaut Jack Fischer and Russian astronaut Fyodor Yurchikhin.
She will now head to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, which is closed until after Labor Day due to Hurricane Harvey, except for essential personnel. Whitson tweeted this photo of herself from the International Space Station on Aug. 6, just weeks before she landed back on Earth.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Set Multiple Records With This Latest Trip to Space
Whitson set the record for most cumulative days in space, but that’s not the only record she shattered.
Selected by NASA as an Astronaut Candidate in 1996, the 57-year-old is now the world’s oldest female astronaut, according to the Associated Press. Dubbed the “American space ninja” by her colleagues, she also now holds the record for most space walks by a female astronaut, completing 10 space walks.
And she is the first woman to have commanded the International Space Station twice, AP reported.
2. Whitson and Her Fellow Astronauts Conducted a Lung Tissue Study During This Mission
The study “explored how stem cells work in the unique microgravity environment of the space station, which may pave the way for future stem cell research in space,” according to a NASA press release.
“Using the latest bioengineering techniques, the Lung Tissue experiment cultures different types of lung cells in controlled conditions aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The cells are grown in a specialized framework that supplies them with critical growth factors so that scientists can observe how gravity affects growth and specialization as cells become new lung tissue,” NASA officials said.
3. She Grew Chinese Cabbage on the International Space Station
Whitson grew Chinese cabbage while aboard the International Space Station to take back to Earth for study.
“While the space station crew will get to eat some of the Chinese cabbage, the rest is being saved for scientific study back at Kennedy Space Center. This is the fifth crop grown aboard the station, and the first Chinese cabbage. The crop was chosen after evaluating several leafy vegetables on a number of criteria, such as how well they grow and their nutritional value,” NASA said in a press release.
4. Her Favorite Part of Astronaut Training Was Flying in the T-38 Talon
Back in January, Whitson spoke with students from Mt. Ayr Elementary in Iowa from aboard the International Space Station and said her favorite part of training to be an astronaut was flying in the T-38 Talon.
“The National Aeronautics and Space Administration uses T-38 aircraft as trainers for astronauts and as observers and chase planes on programs such as the space shuttle,” according to the Air Force.
The aircraft can fly 812 miles per hour.
5. Whitson Grew Up in Iowa But Spent Many Years in Texas
Whitson was born in Mt. Ayr, Iowa, and calls Beaconsfield, Iowa, her hometown, according to her official NASA bio. Her connection to the Houston-area isn’t limited to her work at the Johnson Space Center, however. Whiston earned her doctorate in biochemistry from Rice University in 1985 and went on to teach in Galveston, Texas.
“From 1991 to 1997, Whitson was invited to be an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and Department of Human Biological Chemistry and Genetics at University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas. In 1997, Whitson began a position as Adjunct Assistant Professor at Rice University in the Maybee Laboratory for Biochemical and Genetic Engineering,” her bio reads.
Whitson had a view of Hurricane Harvey from the International Space Station, but surely will be devastated to see its actual destruction in person.