The successful return from ISS today of three astronauts by a Soyuz capsule marked the end of Peggy Whitson’s record-breaking nine-month mission.
When she launched to the International Space Station as part of the Expedition 50 and 51 crews on the Soyuz MS-03 mission, her tenure aboard the Station was due to end after approximately six months, landing with the same two crewmembers she launched with.
But a realignment of the Russian crew manifest and a desire on the part of Roscosmos to reduce Russian Station personnel from three to two until the launch of their new Mini-Research Module resulted in an ability, unplanned at her launch, to allow Dr. Whitson to remain aboard the ISS for nine months instead of six. Her planned six month stay, assuming it lasted the entire duration, would have seen Dr. Whitson break an important record for NASA – that of the most cumulative time in space for any NASA astronaut in history. Dr. Whitson broke that record on 24 April 2017, when she accumulated 534 days off Earth – breaking the record set by Jeff Williams in 2016. With the conclusion of her current mission, Dr. Whitson will have amassed a cumulative time of 665 days 22 hours 54 minutes in orbit, more than shattering Jeff Williams’s record and placing her 8th on the list of total time in space for a single person.