Astronaut Sets U.S. Space Record

The Soyuz spacecraft landed Saturday, with three astronauts from the International Space Station returning home safely.

K.C. Jones, Contributor

April 21, 2008

2 Min Read

They missed their landing target by nearly 300 miles, but astronauts who returned to Earth from the International Space Station Saturday are safe.

NASA announced the safe landing of the Soyuz spacecraft Saturday, saying American astronaut Peggy Whitson, the first female ISS commander, touched down with Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Korean So-yeon Yi at 4:30 a.m., about 295 miles off target in Kazakhstan.

The Expedition 16 crew members undocked the Soyuz at 1:06 a.m. and began descending toward Earth at 3:40 a.m. The distance between the planned landing site and the actual landing site delayed recovery crews by about 45 minutes, NASA said.

Whitson, 48, set a record for spending more time in space than any astronaut in U.S. history. Malenchenko, 46, launched to the ISS October 10, 2007 with Whitson and spent the same amount of time (192 days) in space during this trip.

Whitson had spent 185 days as a flight engineer as part of the Expedition crew in 2002, bringing her total time in space to 377 days. The previous record was 374 days, set after astronaut Mike Foale launched into space six times.

Malenchenko, as a Russian Air Force colonel, spent a total of 515 days in space during four trips, which puts him in ninth place, worldwide, for time spent in space. He was aboard the Russian space station Mir in 1994, commanded Expedition 7 in 2006, and joined the shuttle Atlantis' STS-106 crew in 2000.

Yi flew under a commercial contract with Russia's federal space agency, NASA said.

The Expedition 16 crew conducted experiments in human life sciences, physical sciences, and Earth observation. They gathered information to study the effects of long-duration spaceflight, which will help with planning missions to the moon and Mars.

A new crew, including Expedition 17 Commander Sergei Volkov, and Flight Engineers Oleg Kononenko and Garrett Reisman remained at the station.

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