Expedition 48-49 backup crew member Peggy Whitson of NASA poses for a photograph as the Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft is rolled out by train to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Monday, July 4, 2016.
The crew will participate in standard post-flight medical evaluations. She then received a bouquet of flowers with the greeting, "Welcome back, Peggy".
Whitson spent 288 days, or almost 10 months in space, totaling 4,623 orbits this time around, breaking the record for most time in space overall. Stepping in to help out, the European Space Agency volunteered to fly the US astronauts to Cologne, Germany, where the NASA jet will meet them for the long flight back to storm-ravaged Houston.
After the astronauts return to Houston, they will spend the next 45 days doing physical rehabilitation and undergoing a series of medical tests both for health reasons and scientific research.
Russian cosmonauts still lead the all-time space endurance list, with Gennady Padalka the record-holder with 878 days in orbit. The trio ended a months-long mission to the International Space Station.
NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson, NASA Astronaut Jack "2fish" Fischer, and Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin return to Earth after 288 days in space for Whitson and 136 days in space for Fischer and Yurchikhin.
The space station's crew normally is evenly split between the Russians and the US segment, with three cosmonauts and three astronauts representing NASA, ESA, Japan and Canada. Their Russian Soyuz capsule undocked from the International Space Station just hours earlier.
Mission Control remains "operational" the agency said.
She also performed her 10th spacewalk, more than any other woman. Also during this flight, 57-year-old Whitson became the oldest woman in space. This was her third flight. Yurchikhin and Fischer joined Whitson in April. The men flew up in April.
She was also eager to reunite with her husband, Clarence Sams, a biochemist who also works at Johnson Space Center in Houston. He offered up special praise for Whitson - "American space ninja" - and wished them all Godspeed. Their Soyuz capsule is due to land in Kazakhstan late Saturday, U.S. time. Whitson, who arrived in November with Expedition 50/51, filled that empty seat for the return flight after NASA and Russia's space agency Roscosmos agreed to extend her stay through Expedition 52.
"Our home is fine, but so many friends and co-workers have been impacted [by the storm]", Whitson said in an interview with NASA. Yurchikhin ranks seventh with 673 days aloft over five missions.