NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson has just set the record as the longest-serving US astronaut, and cemented her position as the most experienced female astronaut, with a rather lengthy 535 days in space and counting.
She broke the record yesterday aboard the International Space Station (ISS), when she passed astronaut Jeff Williams’ previous record of 534 days. Whitson has flown to space three times, with one of those trips including two flights aboard the Space Shuttle, and is now on the ISS as part of Expedition 50.
“It's actually a huge honour to break a record like this but it's an honour for me to be representing all the folks at Nasa who make the space flight possible, who make me setting this record feasible,” Whitson said in a phone call with President Trump, who made some odd comments about getting to Mars.
Whitson became an astronaut in 1996, flying for the first time in June 2002 aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour to the ISS for Expedition 5, her first long-duration stay in space. She returned to Earth later that year in December, again on Endeavour, before flying again in 2007 aboard a Soyuz capsule for Expedition 16. On that mission, she became the first female to command the ISS.
Her decorated career also saw her work as a researcher for NASA in the 1980s, and also as a project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir Program in the 1990s. Now, though, she’s the most experienced astronaut in US history, and she also has performed eight spacewalks – the most by a woman.
By the time she returns to Earth in September, Whitson will have more than 750 days in space under her belt. That’s still short of the 879 days spent cumulatively in space by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, the human with the most time spent in space. And neither come close to the longest single flight, set by Valery Polyakov in 1994 and 1995 aboard Mir, lasting 437 days.