Record-breaking NASA astronaut Whitson returns to earth

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Whitson spent 288 days on the space station during her flight, with Fischer and Yurchikhin spending 136 days on their mission.

Yurchikhin, Fischer and Whitson were carried one at a time to nearby recliners for quick medical checks and brief satellite phone calls home to family and friends.

During the change-of-command ceremony, Bresnik took over from Yurchikhin, who presented him with a symbolic "key to the space station".

NASA had scheduled a news conference earlier this week with Whitson, to be filmed from the space station, but said it had to be rescheduled after she returns because of the impact of Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

Jack "2Fish" Fischer, 43, went into space as a rookie but has won over space-watchers with his boundless enthusiasm during his four-and-a-half months aboard the ISS.

Upon her return, Whitson will have racked up 665 days in space in her career, more than any other American astronaut.

The astronauts' return comes as the Texas city of Houston, home to NASA's Johnson Space Center, has been struggling to get back to normalcy after a week of deadly flooding triggered by Hurricane Harvey. "Since then, there's been historic rainfall that they say Houston hasn't seen in a millennium".

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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. Except for the past week, Whitson said her mission hurried by.

Whitson says she's craving pizza - and flush toilets.

She and the other crew members aboard the International Space Station also pursued hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.

Roscosmos's Sergey Ryazanskiy and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) will operate the station until the arrival of Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA and Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos in the crew.

The Soyuz MS-04 carrying Whitson and crew will enter a deorbit burn at 8:29 p.m.

During the 57-year-old biochemist's mission at the ISS she also broke the record for the longest-ever spaceflight completed by a woman, eclipsing Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti's 199-day mission in June.

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