NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson has surpassed the 534-day record for space flight by an American, adding yet another accolade to her groundbreaking career.
She broke the record, set last year by astronaut Jeff Williams, at 10 a.m. Monday morning, when she received a congratulatory call from President Trump.
She tweeted, likewise, that she’s on “one of those rides that you hope never ends.”
— Peggy Whitson (@AstroPeggy) April 23, 2017
Whitson, 57 is a biochemist and a 15-year veteran of spaceflight. She made her first trip into orbit in 2002, after two decades of work with the space agency on the ground. Last November, at age 56, she returned to space for her current, third mission (which also, incidentally, gives her the record for oldest woman to go to space).
For decades we’ve devoured science fiction epics, and diligently tuned into long-running TV shows about people “lost” out there. But the reality of extended durations in orbit, of floating weightless, is much less comfortable. Whitson mentioned the recycled urine process during a live interview with the President, but she’s also spent more than 53 hours of time doing spacewalks and extra-vehicular activity. That’s two of her 534 days spent outside the space station, for anyone keeping track.
During Whitson’s Q&A this week with President Trump, she explained that she’d never considered being an astronaut until the Apollo program. “I don’t really think it became a goal until I graduated from high school, when the first female astronauts were selected,” she says.
Hopefully her achievements will do the same in kind for the next generation. Regardless of what Trump wants for his first “or at worst, during my second term,” a NASA journey to Mars is likely more than a decade away, so the astronauts who will take that journey are likely in school right now.