Stardate 305690.22 (April 24th, 2017, 1:27 a.m. ET): Astronaut Peggy Whitson just broke the American record for most cumulative days in space, surpassing Jeff Williams’ 534 days — and she’s not even ready to come home! Just last week, she announced that her third visit to the International Space Station (ISS) will be extended to September 3rd. Fellow metalheads, take heed: When she returns, she will have been in space for 666 days overall.
Whitson, a biochemist, is no stranger to breaking records. On the same trip, she became the first woman to command the ISS twice. (She was also the first woman to command it, period.) Also on this trip, she completed her eighth spacewalk, giving her the most spacewalks of any female astronaut. If a second planned spacewalk occurs on this trip, she will become the third-most experienced spacewalker of all time. (If not, she’ll be fifth. Not too shabby.) One more thing: When this trip began in November 2016, Whitson became the oldest woman to go to space, celebrating her 57th birthday aboard the ISS.
Twitter immediately responded, using the hashtag #CongratsPeggy.
The president, along with his daughter Ivanka and astronaut Kate Rubins, called to congratulate her on this latest record, and during that call Whitson and astronaut Jack Fischer, who is on his first trip to space, spoke about the research and work they are doing to prepare for eventual travel to Mars, which is expected to occur in the 2030s.
Whitson described the technology they are working on, from the operation of space vehicles to life-supporting mechanisms for long-term visits to Mars — like techniques for recycling urine into drinking water. “It’s really not as bad as it sounds,” she said. (We’ll take your word for it, Dr. Whitson.)
She took the call while floating beneath a sign reading “Congrats Peggy!! New U.S. High-Time Space Ninja.”
When asked about what inspired her to become a scientist and astronaut, Whitson said she had long been inspired by the space program, since seeing other female astronauts made her understand that she could be among them.
“It became a goal when I was in high school when I saw the first female astronauts,” she said. “It took me a lot longer to become an astronaut than I wanted it to take, but I do think I’m better at my job because of the journey.”
Whitson said she is glad to break the record, but she reminds us that it takes a lot of people, from all over the world, working together to keep the International Space Station moving forward with its important research. She thanked NASA for their support of her own research.
“It’s actually a huge honor to break a record like this, but it’s an honor for me to be representing all the folks at NASA who make this spaceflight possible and make me setting this record feasible,” she said.
In an earlier interview with CBS, Whitson said she looks forward to the day female astronauts are commonplace.
Maybe so. But for now, we’re celebrating Commander Whitson for once again boldly going where no man, or woman, has gone before.