Whitson returned to Earth with Jack Fischer, also with the NASA, and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, who had been aboard the station since June.
In an interview from the International Space Station ahead of her return, Whitson said, "I will miss seeing the enchantingly peaceful limb of our Earth from this vantage point". After the crew gets checked out in a medical tent on-site, the helicopters will carry them back to Kazakhstan's Karaganda airport for a traditional welcoming ceremony before they board planes and head home.
Descending gently under a parachute, the Soyuz crew module settled to a jarring rocket-assisted touchdown near the town of Dzezkazgan at 9:21 p.m. EDT (GMT-4; 7:21 a.m. Sunday local time).
Launched last November 17 aboard the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft, Whitson logged 288 days in space during her third, extended mission while Yurchikhin and Fischer logged 136 days. 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.
Roscosmos' Sergey Ryazanskiy, NASA's Randy Bresnik and European Space Agency's (ESA) Paolo Nespoli will remain at the ISS until the Expedition 53/54 comes.
Whitson broke the USA record of 534 cumulative days in orbit during the mission.
During her third and latest mission, the 57-year-old biochemist became the oldest woman in space.
Fischer and Yurchikhin both spent 136 days aboard the ISS.
We are in your debt for the supreme dedication that you guys have to the human mission of exploration, he told them.
Two crewmates who had gone to the ISS with Whitson in November returned to Earth three months ago but she stayed aboard to fill a vacancy after Russian Federation reduced its station staff from three to two cosmonauts, Reuters reported. On Friday (Sept. 1) Yurchikhin handed over command of the ISS to Bresnik. I love working up here. After so long in space, she longed for fresh produce and did her best to jazz up the freeze-dried and just-add-water space meals. "It's one of the most gratifying jobs I've ever had". He logged 673 days over five missions.
During the interim, thanks to Whitson's extended mission, US research that otherwise would have been sharply curtailed was able to continue.