Nasa astronaut Christina Koch has accomplished the longest-ever single spaceflight by a woman.
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft bringing Koch parachuted down to the plains of Kazakhstan at around 09:12 GMT.
She stayed 328 days on the International Space Station (ISS), exceeding the previous record held by fellow American Peggy Whitson.
Her stay is only 12 days short of the unprecedented US record set by Scott Kelly, who was on the ISS from 2015-2016.
“I’m so stunned and happy right now,” she told reporters as she sat outside the capsule, just after it landed in the snow.
Ms Koch outdid the 289-day record made by fellow American Ms Whitson on 28 December previous year. But her return to Earth sets the pointer for future space travellers to beat.
Whitson still owns the record for most time spent in space by a woman, accumulated over the path of three spaceflights from 2002-2017.
During her duty, Koch finished 5,248 orbits of the Earth and travelled 223 million km (139 million miles) – equal to 291 round trips to the Moon from Earth.
She came back on the Soyuz with two other crew members – the Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Skvortsov and Italian European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano. They landed near Dzhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan.
“For me, it’s all regarding the honour I feel to follow in the footprints of my heroes,” Christina Koch told journalists on Tuesday during a live link-up from the ISS. She added that she sought to inspire the next generation of space travelers.
“For me, it was important to see people that I saw an image of myself in, growing up, when I was imagining what I could do with my life and what my dreams might be. To possibly be that source of inspiration for someone else is just such an admiration,” she said.
Ms Koch was included in another spaceflight milestone during her stay of almost 11 months on the ISS. On 18 October last year, she carried out the first all-female spacewalk together with her compatriot Jessica Meir.
The duo spent seven hours outside the ISS substituting a failed power control unit.
Remembering the historic event with Meir, Ms. Koch said: “When we first got the ‘go’ to emerge out of the airlock, and we ended up coming out, we were holding on to a railing and we just caught each other’s eyes.
“We knew how exceptional that moment was and I’ll never forget that.”
Koch and Meir ensued October’s landmark event with two more spacewalks together, on 15 and 20 January this year.
USSR’s Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman spacewalker, who worked outside the Salyut 7 space station for over three hours with a male cosmonaut, Vladimir Dzhanibekov, on 25 July 1984.
Koch has earlier said that her spaceflight would help the US space agency better understand the impacts of long-term spaceflight, as Nasa targets to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024.
Ms Koch, together with other active members of the astronaut units, is a likely candidate for that first return mission.
During her time on the ISS, she conducted experiment on proteins as part of a project that could have effects for cancer treatment.
But there was also interruption, including Karaoke nights with the other team members.
Koch said she would long for the freedom given by microgravity during her time on the orbiting station. In her interview, she showed by rotating her body 180 degrees, describing: “It’s really fun to be in a place where you can spring around between the floor and the ceiling whenever you want.”
Though, she added: “I’m definitely eager to being on the same planet as everybody else very soon.”
Koch has not only surpassed Whitson’s spaceflight mark but also those of the earlier holders of the 5th and 6th longest flights: Sergei Krikalev and Yury Romanenko – both Russians.
The bearer of the longest single spaceflight by any person remains the Russian Valeri Polyakov, who spent over 437 days aboard the Soviet – and afterwards Russian – space station Mir from 8 January 1994 to 22 March 1995.
Koch was sent to the ISS on 14 March last year. She was to have remained on the station for the standard duration of six months, but her stay was prolonged in April 2019 because of flight scheduling issues.
Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and brought up in North Carolina, Ms Koch has degrees in electrical engineering and physics.
She was to have executed the first all-female spacewalk in March, soon after arriving at the space station. But a problem with the sizing of Nasa colleague Anne McClain’s spacesuit compelled the walk to be reallocated to another crew member, Nick Hague.