NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson becomes the first woman to hold command of the International Space Station for the second time on Sunday as two Russian crew members and an American prepared to fly back to Earth.
On April 24, Whitson, 57, will also become the most experienced US astronaut in terms of time spent in space surpassing the current US record of 534 days held by NASA's Jeff Williams, 59. She already hold records for the most time spent in space by a woman and for the most time spent spacewalking by a woman.
"She will set another record at this moment", the departing US commander, Shane Kimbrough, said during a Sunday change of command ceremony aired on NASA TV. "She becomes the first two-time female commander of the International Space Station."
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Russian crewmates Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko were scheduled to wrap up a 173-day mission on Monday, with a parachute landing in Kazakhstan at 7:21 am EDT (1121 GMT). Their replacements, NASA’s Jack Fischer and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, were due to arrive on April 20 at the station.
Whitson flew to the station in November with Russia’s Oleg Novitskiy and France's Thomas Pesquet. The men were scheduled to fly back to Earth without Whitson on June 2.
NASA recently agreed to extend Whitson's stay on the station by three months. Now, she will be there to welcome incoming crew members Jack Fischer and Fyodor Yurchikhin, and will return to Earth with them in September, having amassed a career US record of more than 665 days in orbit.
Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, with 878 days in orbit, is the world’s most experienced space flier.