NASA's record-breaking astronaut Peggy Whitson and her crewmate Jack Fischer received a special welcome-home phone call from President Donald Trump on Sunday evening (Sept. 3) as the two space travelers flew back to Houston after their return from the International Space Station (ISS).
Whitson, Fischer and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin returned to Earth on Saturday (Sept. 2) in the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft, which safely touched down in Kazakhstan. After the landing, Whitson and Fischer traveled to Johnson Space Center's Ellington Field in Houston.
During their flight to Houston on Sunday (Sept. 3), Trump called to welcome them home from a successful mission. "I want to congratulate Peggy and Jack for their incredible accomplishments. They make us all very proud," Trump said during the call. "Exploration has always been at the core of who we are as Americans, and their brave contributions to human spaceflight have continued that great tradition." [In Photos: President Donald Trump and NASA]
During her time on the ISS, Whitson set a spaceflight-duration record and has now spent a total of 665 days in space over the course of her career as an astronaut. This time she returned from an extended, 288-day stay aboard the ISS, which is the longest any woman has spent in space. Fischer, a first-timer at the ISS, has now accrued a total of 136 days aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Whitson also became the oldest woman to travel into space during this trip at age 57. As commander of Expedition 51, Whitson became the first woman to command the ISS twice. In 2007, she became the first woman ever to command the ISS. In addition, she has completed more spacewalks than any female astronaut and has spent more time doing spacewalks than any other woman. Whitson now ranks in third place for her total spacewalking time, with 60 hours and 21 minutes spent on extravehicular activities.
"Peggy is an inspiration to us all," Trump said, "especially to young women interested in or currently pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math."
This was the second time Trump called Whitson to congratulate her on her accomplishments as a NASA astronaut. In April, Trump and his daughter Ivanka called the space station to congratulate Whitson for having surpassed NASA astronaut Jeff Williams' record for the most cumulative time spent in space.
"I appreciate President Trump reaching out personally to congratulate Peggy for her record breaking mission and Jack for his accomplishments on his first spaceflight," NASA's acting administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement.
"The president has had the opportunity to hear from Peggy and Jack firsthand how the work aboard the International Space Station is directly pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, and advancing American leadership in the boundless frontier of space. I want to add my thanks to the teams on the ground across the globe, especially in Houston, who are dealing with the aftermath of Harvey, yet still maintained the focus to get Peggy and Jack home safely. It is an amazing team."
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which caused devastating floods in the Houston area, NASA had to change its plans for getting the astronauts home. Usually, NASA's Gulfstream jet picks up the astronauts in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, after a welcoming ceremony following the landing.
"Because of the aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey, the NASA Gulfstream jet was unable to leave Houston in time to make it to the staging city of Karaganda in order to perform what is called a 'direct return' of the crew back to Houston," NASA TV commentator Rob Navias said during a webcast of the landing.
Instead, the crew first boarded a European Space Agency jet, which took them to the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany. There, the NASA Gulfstream jet picked them up and brought them back to Houston one day later.