Peggy Whitson

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Peggy Annette Whitson
Born (1960-02-09) February 9, 1960 (age 61)
Alma materIowa Wesleyan University
Rice University
OccupationBiochemist Astronaut Research Scientist
Space career
NASA Astronaut
Time in space
665 days 22 hours 22 minutes[1]
Selection1996 NASA Group
Total EVAs
Total EVA time
60 hours, 21 minutes[2]
MissionsSTS-111/STS-113 (Expedition 5), Soyuz TMA-11 (Expedition 16), Soyuz MS-03/MS-04 (Expedition 50/51/52)
Mission insignia
STS-111 Patch.svg Expedition 5 insignia.svg STS-113 Patch.svg Soyuz TMA-11 Patch.png ISS Expedition 16 patch.svg Soyuz-MS-03-Mission-Patch.png ISS Expedition 50 Patch.png ISS Expedition 51 Patch.svg ISS Expedition 52 Patch.svg Soyuz-MS-04-Mission-Patch.png

Peggy Annette Whitson (born February 9, 1960) is an American biochemistry researcher, retired NASA astronaut,[3] and former NASA Chief Astronaut. Her first space mission was in 2002, with an extended stay aboard the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 5. Her second mission launched October 10, 2007, as the first female commander of the ISS with Expedition 16.[4][5] She was on her third long-duration space flight and was the commander of the International Space Station for Expedition 51, before handing over command to Fyodor Yurchikhin on June 1, 2017.

The flight of Space Shuttle mission STS-120, commanded by astronaut Pam Melroy, was the first time that two female mission commanders have been in orbit at the same time.[6][7][8] After completion of her eighth EVA in March 2017, Whitson now holds the records for the oldest woman spacewalker, and the record for total spacewalks by a woman, which was broken by her again after a ninth and tenth EVA in May 2017,[9] surpassing Sunita Williams, who has completed seven.[10] Whitson's cumulative EVA time is 60 hours, 21 minutes, which places her in 4th place for total EVA time.[2] She is also the oldest female astronaut ever in space, at age 57.[11]

In 2017, Whitson became the first female astronaut to command the International Space Station twice. On April 24, 2017, Whitson broke the record for cumulative total days spent in space by any NASA astronaut, at more than 534 days.[12]

In June 2017, Whitson broke the record for the longest single space flight by a woman which had previously been held by Samantha Cristoforetti at 199 days, 16 hours. Whitson spent 289 days in orbit before returning aboard Soyuz MS-04.[13][14] The record was broken by Christina Koch, whose single space flight lasted 328 days.[15]

Whitson returned to Earth on September 3, 2017 having accrued a total of 665 days in space over the course of her career; the equivalent of a hypothetical round trip to Mars, making her NASA's most experienced astronaut to date. This total was more time in space than any other American and any other woman worldwide.[16][17]

On June 15, 2018, Whitson announced her retirement from the agency, effective on the same day.[18]

Whitson was included in Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2018. [19]

Early life and background[edit]

Whitson grew up on a farm outside the town of Beaconsfield, Iowa with her sister, Kathy and her parents, Keith and Beth.[3][20] Her parents were farmers and her decision to become an astronaut came after she watched the first moon landing on television as a child in 1969.[21] Whitson graduated from Mount Ayr Community High School in 1978 and received a bachelor of science degree in biology and chemistry from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1981. She then went on to earn her doctorate degree in biochemistry from Rice University in 1986,[22] and following completion of her graduate work, continued at Rice as a Robert A Welch Post-doctoral Fellow until October 1986. She is married to Clarence F. Sams.[3]

Research career[edit]

Following her fellowship at Rice, she began working at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, as a National Research Council Resident Research Associate. From April 1988 until September 1989, Whitson served as the Supervisor for the Biochemistry Research Group at KRUG International, a medical sciences contractor at NASA-JSC.[3]

From 1991 through 1997, Whitson was invited to be an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and the Department of Human Biological Chemistry and Genetics at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. In 1997, Whitson began a position as adjunct assistant professor at Rice University in the Maybee Laboratory for Biochemical and Genetic Engineering.[3]

From 1992 to 1995, she served as project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir Program and, until her selection as an astronaut candidate in 1996, as deputy division chief for the Medical Sciences division at the Johnson Space Center.[3]

NASA career[edit]

NEEMO 5 crew members are pictured in the bunkroom aboard the Aquarius research habitat. Top, L-R: Garrett Reisman, Emma Hwang; Middle: Whitson, Clayton Anderson; Bottom: James Talacek, Ryan Snow.

From 1989 to 1993, Whitson worked as a research biochemist in the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch at NASA-JSC. From 1991 to 1993, she served as technical monitor of the Biochemistry Research Laboratories in the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch. From 1991 through 1992, she was the payload element developer for Bone Cell Research Experiment (E10) aboard SL-J (STS-47), and was a member of the US-USSR Joint Working Group in Space Medicine and Biology. In 1992, she was named the project scientist of the Shuttle-Mir Program (STS-60, STS-63, STS-71, Mir 18, Mir 19), and served in this capacity until the conclusion of the Phase 1A Program in 1995. From 1993 through 1996, Whitson held the additional responsibilities of the deputy division chief of the Medical Sciences Division at NASA-JSC. From 1995 to 1996, she served as co-chair of the U.S.-Russian Mission Science Working Group.

In April 1996, Whitson was selected as an astronaut candidate and started training in August 1996. Upon completing the two years of training and evaluation, she was assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office Operations Planning Branch, and served as the lead for the Crew Test Support Team in Russia from 1998 to 1999. In June 2003, Whitson served as the commander of the NEEMO 5 mission aboard the Aquarius underwater laboratory, living and working underwater for fourteen days.[23] From November 2003 to March 2005, she served as deputy chief of the Astronaut Office. From March 2005 to November 2005, she served as chief of the Station Operations Branch, Astronaut Office.

Chief of the Astronaut Office[edit]

Whitson was appointed NASA Chief of the Astronaut Office in October 2009, replacing Steven W. Lindsey. Whitson was the first female, and first non-pilot to serve as Chief Astronaut. She resigned when she went back on active flight status in July 2012, replaced by Robert Behnken. Whitson has also served twice as the Commander of the International Space Station.[citation needed]

Spaceflight experience[edit]

Expedition 5[edit]

Whitson working near the Microgravity Science Glovebox during Expedition 5

The Expedition 5 crew launched on June 5, 2002, aboard STS-111 and docked with the International Space Station on June 7, 2002. During her six-month stay aboard the Space Station, Whitson installed the Mobile Base System, the S1 truss segment, and the P1 truss segment using the space station remote manipulator system; performed a 4-hour and 25 minute spacewalk in a Russian Orlan space suit to install micrometeoroid shielding on the Zvezda Service Module; and activated and checked out the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox, a facility class payload rack.

Peggy Whitson in the course of preparing for spacewalk from ISS during Expedition 5

Whitson was named the first NASA science officer during her stay, and she conducted 21 investigations in human life sciences and microgravity sciences, as well as commercial payloads.[24] The Expedition 5 crew returned to Earth aboard STS-113 on December 7, 2002. Completing her first flight, Whitson logged 184 days, 22 hours and 14 minutes in space.

Expedition 16[edit]

Expedition 16 commander Whitson greets STS-120 commander Pam Melroy

Her second mission, Expedition 16, launched October 10, 2007, on Soyuz TMA-11.[25][26][27] Along with her Expedition 16 crew member Yuri Malenchenko and spaceflight participant Yi So-yeon, she returned to Earth in Soyuz TMA-11 on April 19, 2008. The re-entry was remarkable for the failure of the Soyuz propulsion module to separate properly, and the subsequent "ballistic reentry" which subjected the crew to forces about eight times that of Earth surface gravity.[28] She spent 191 days, 19 hrs and 8 mins in space on this mission.[29]

On December 18, 2007, during the fourth spacewalk of Expedition 16 to inspect the S4 starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (SARJ), the ground team in Mission Control informed Whitson that she had become the female astronaut with the most cumulative EVA time in NASA history, as well as the most EVAs, with her fifth EVA. Three hours and 37 minutes into the spacewalk, Whitson surpassed NASA astronaut Sunita Williams with a total time at that point of 29 hours and 18 minutes.[30][31] At the completion of Whitson's fifth EVA, the 100th in support of ISS assembly and maintenance, Whitson's cumulative EVA time became 32 hours, and 36 minutes, which placed her in 20th place for total EVA time.[31] Her sixth spacewalk, also during Expedition 16, brought her cumulative EVA time to 39 hours, 46 minutes, which ranked her 23rd for total EVA time as of November 2009.

Expedition 50/51/52[edit]

Whitson during an EVA with Expedition 50 commander Shane Kimbrough

Peggy Whitson arrived at the International Space Station on November 19, 2016,[32] on Expedition 50/51, which was launched on November 17, 2016, from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.[33] She became the commander of Expedition 51.[34][35] With the launch of Expedition 50/51 with her on it, Whitson, at age 56, became the oldest woman to fly into space.[36][37] During the mission, she broke the record for cumulative time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut, surpassing the previous record of 534 days set by Jeff Williams.[38] In early April 2017, her mission was extended by an additional 3 months at the International Space Station. On September 3, she returned in a previously vacant seat on the Soyuz capsule accompanied by NASA's Jack Fischer and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos.[39]

Whitson with fellow Soyuz MS-03 crew member Thomas Pesquet inside the BEAM
Whitson at the National Air and Space Museum in 2018

In January 2017, Whitson performed her seventh EVA. along with Expedition 50 commander Shane Kimbrough. During the EVA, they installed three new adapter plates and hooked up electrical connectors preparing the way to replace the ISS batteries. The EVA lasted 6 hours and 32 minutes. Whitson now holds the record for the oldest female spacewalker, and is now tied with the record for total spacewalks by a woman (seven), along with Sunita Williams.[10] After completion of the seventh EVA, Whitson's cumulative EVA time became 46 hours, 18 minutes, which placed her in 13th place for total EVA time.

On April 24, 2017, Whitson officially broke the record for longest amount of time spent in space by any NASA astronaut.[40] As a result, she received a televised phone call from the Oval Office from US President Donald Trump, the President's daughter Ivanka, and fellow astronaut Kathleen Rubins.[40][41] When interviewed on that day she declared 'It is actually a huge honor to break a record like this, but it is an honor for me back to be representing all the folks at NASA'.[42]

On May 12, 2017, Whitson performed her ninth career EVA with Jack Fischer. After a short delay due to leaking equipment, they replaced an avionics box on the starboard truss called an ExPRESS Logistics Carrier (ELC), a storage platform. The duration was 4 hours and 13 minutes, and it was the 200th EVA to be performed on the ISS.[43]

On May 23, 2017, Whitson performed her tenth career EVA with Fischer. They replaced a backup multiplexer-demultiplexer (MDM) unit that had failed on May 20, 2017. The duration was 2 hours and 46 minutes, making Whitson's cumulative EVA time more than 60 hours, placing her third on the list for most EVA time.[44]

On June 1, 2017, Whitson passed over the command of the International Space Station to Fyodor Yurchikhin, who was named commander of Expedition 52 until he, Whitson and Jack Fischer returned to Earth aboard Soyuz MS-04 in September 2017.[45][46]

Whitson returned to Earth on September 3, 2017, after she accrued a total of 665 days in space over the course of her career. This total was more time in space than any other woman worldwide and any other American.[16] She is ranked eighth on the list of total time spent in space.[47] The duration of her stay in space during expeditions 50/51/52 was 289 days, 5 hours and 1 minute.[1] In June 2020, Whitson was a guest (along with two imposters) on an ABC-TV To Tell the Truth episode in which Patti LaBelle correctly selected her as the record-holding time in space astronaut.

Awards and honors[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  1. ^ a b "Astronaut biography: Peggy Whitson". Retrieved September 5, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Spacefacts (2017). "Astronauts and Cosmonauts with EVA Experience (sorted by "EVA Time")". Spacefacts. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f NASA. "Peggy A. Whitson (Ph.D.)" (PDF). Biographical Data. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Archived from the original on May 4, 2018. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  4. ^ Malik, Tariq (2007). "Space Station Astronauts Prepare for Crew Swap". Retrieved October 9, 2007.
  5. ^ Malik, Tariq (October 4, 2007). "Astronauts Ponder State of Space Exploration". Fox News. Retrieved October 9, 2007.
  6. ^ NASA (2007). "Female Space Commanders Available for Interviews". NASA. Retrieved October 9, 2007.
  7. ^ Malik, Tariq (2007). "Female commanders set for landmark mission". NBC News. Retrieved October 9, 2007.
  8. ^ Internet Broadcasting Systems, Inc. (2007). "History In Space: 2 Women Commanders". Internet Broadcasting Systems, Inc. Archived from the original on June 2, 2008. Retrieved October 9, 2007.
  9. ^ Garcia, Mark (March 30, 2017). "Peggy Whitson Breaks Spacewalking Record". NASA.
  10. ^ a b "Whitson Becomes World's Oldest Female Spacewalker, as EVA-38 Replaces Aging Space Station Batteries". January 6, 2017. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  11. ^ (March 30, 2017). "Peggy Whitson, Oldest Woman Astronaut, Sets New Spacewalk Record | Travel + Leisure". Retrieved September 3, 2017.
  12. ^ "Astronaut Peggy Whitson Sets NASA Record For Most Days In Space". NPR. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  13. ^ "Peggy Whitson Space time". Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  14. ^ "Soyuz MS-04 lands as Peggy Whitson ends record-breaking mission". September 2, 2017. Retrieved December 7, 2019.
  15. ^ "Christina Koch Completes 328-Day Mission in Space – Space Station". Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  16. ^ a b "'American Space Ninja' Back On Earth After Record-Breaking Flight". NPR. August 6, 2017. Retrieved September 3, 2017.
  17. ^ "Astronaut Peggy Whitson returns to Earth after record-breaking spaceflight". Fox News Channel. Retrieved September 2, 2017.
  18. ^ Potter, Sean (June 15, 2018). "Record-Setting NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Retires". NASA.
  19. ^ "Peggy Whitson: The World's 100 Most Influential People". Time. Retrieved September 22, 2020.
  20. ^ Mirovalev, Mansur (2007). "Russian Rocket Heads to Space Station". Associated Press / NBC News. Retrieved October 10, 2007.
  21. ^ "Whitson, John (1557–1629)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, February 6, 2018, doi:10.1093/odnb/9780192683120.013.29322
  22. ^ Rice University Seventy-third Commencement Program (PDF), May 10, 1986, retrieved May 14, 2020
  23. ^ NASA (March 21, 2006). "NEEMO History". NASA. Retrieved September 23, 2011.
  24. ^ Banke, Jim (September 16, 2002). "NASA Boss Names Whitson ISS 'Science Officer'". Archived from the original on June 2, 2008. Retrieved September 17, 2007.
  25. ^ Manstov, Sergi (2007). "Soyuz TMA-11 launches carrying Expedition 16". NASA Retrieved October 10, 2007.
  26. ^ Ritikos, Jane (2007). "First Malaysian in space". Star Publications (Malaysia). Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved October 10, 2007.
  27. ^ Rakhmatullayev, Shavkat (October 10, 2007). "Russian rocket launches first Malaysian into space". Reuters. Retrieved October 10, 2007.
  28. ^ Harwood, William (2008). "Whitson describes rough Soyuz entry and landing". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved July 12, 2008.
  29. ^ "Soyuz crew endures severe G-forces on re-entry". CNN. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  30. ^ CollectSpace (2007). "Astronauts make 100th station spacewalk". CollectSpace. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  31. ^ a b NASA (2007). "Spacewalkers Find No Solar Wing Smoking Gun". NASA. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  32. ^ "Welcome Aboard! New Arrivals Make Six Expedition 50 Crew Members | Space Station". Retrieved November 24, 2016.
  33. ^ "Biography of PEGGY A. WHITSON" (PDF). NASA. 2016. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  34. ^ "NASA, Space Station Partners Announce Crew Members for Missions in 2017". NASA. August 6, 2015. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  35. ^ "ISS Expedition 51 mission patch". December 5, 2015. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  36. ^ "NASA's Peggy Whitson Becomes Oldest Woman in Space - ABC News". Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  37. ^ Chiara Palazzo Associated Press. "Nasa veteran Peggy Whitson becomes the oldest woman in space as she blasts off for ISS". Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  38. ^ "Peggy Whitson: Oldest woman in space blasts off to ISS". BBC News. November 17, 2016. Retrieved December 4, 2016.
  39. ^ Northon, Karen (April 5, 2017). "NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Adds Time to Record-Breaking Mission". NASA. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  40. ^ a b "US astronaut Peggy Whitson breaks American spaceflight record". ABC News. April 24, 2017. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  41. ^ Mueller, Eleanor. "Trump to astronaut: 'Better you than me' to drink urine". CNN. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  42. ^ Upadhye, Neeti (April 24, 2017). "Peggy Whitson Breaks Another Record in Space". The New York Times.
  43. ^ "ISS astronauts complete 200th station EVA for maintenance tasks". May 12, 2017. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  44. ^ "Peggy Whitson EVA experience". May 23, 2017. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  45. ^ "Tearful Whitson transfers ISS command in 'bittersweet' handover". Reuters. June 2, 2017.
  46. ^ Garcia, Mark (June 1, 2017). "Station Changes Command Before Friday Crew Return". NASA. Retrieved June 18, 2017.
  47. ^ "Astronauts and Cosmonauts (sorted by "Time in Space")".
  48. ^ Pesquet, Thomas (April 2018). "Time 100: Peggy Whitson".
  49. ^ "Better Makers: Adler Planetarium Honors NASA Trailblazer Peggy Whitson". Better Chicago. June 21, 2019.
  50. ^ "World's Most Prestigious Air & Space Hall of Fame to Enshrine Distinguished Class of 2018". San Diego Air & Space Museum. Retrieved October 30, 2019.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Fyodor Yurchikhin
ISS Expedition Commander
October 10, 2007 to April 19, 2008
Succeeded by
Sergey Volkov
Preceded by
Steven W. Lindsey
Chief of the Astronaut Office
Succeeded by
Robert L. Behnken
Preceded by
Robert S. Kimbrough
ISS Expedition Commander
April 10 to June 2, 2017
Succeeded by
Fyodor Yurchikhin