NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, currently living and working aboard the International Space Station, broke the record Monday for cumulative time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut – an occasion that was celebrated with a phone call from President Donald Trump, First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and fellow astronaut Kate Rubins.
NASA astronaut Jack Fischer, who arrived April 20 for his first mission aboard the orbiting outpost, also participated in the call alongside Whitson.
“Peggy is a phenomenal role model for young women, and all Americans, who are exploring or participating in STEM education programs and careers,” said President Trump. “As I have said many times before, only by enlisting the full potential of women in our society will we be truly able to make America great again. When I signed the INSPIRE Women Act in February, I did so to ensure more women have access to STEM education and careers, and to ensure America continues to benefit from the contributions of trailblazers like Peggy.”
Whitson launched on Nov. 17, 2016, with 377 days in space already under her belt, and broke Jeff Williams’ U.S. record of 534 cumulative days in space. In 2008, Whitson became the first woman to command the space station, and on April 9 became the first woman to command it twice. In addition, she holds the record for most spacewalks by a female astronaut.
“This is an inspirational record Peggy is setting today, and she would be the first to tell you this is a record that’s absolutely made to be broken as we advance our knowledge and existence as both Americans and humans,” said NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “The cutting-edge research and technology demonstrations on the International Space Station will help us go farther into our solar system and stay there longer, as we explore the mysteries of deep space first-hand. Congratulation to Peggy, and thank you for inspiring not only women, but all Americans to pursue STEM careers and become leaders.”
This is Whitson’s third long-duration stay on board the space station, and her mission was recently extended for an additional three months. Rather than returning to Earth in June as originally planned, Whitson will remain on the space station and her return home, with Fischer and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, is targeted for September. Whitson’s extension will give her significantly more time to conduct scientific experiments aboard the station.
A fresh set of science experiments and supplies for Whitson and her crewmates arrived at the space station April 22 on Orbital ATK’s seventh NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission. Investigations include an antibody investigation that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment and an advanced plant habitat for studying plant physiology and food growth in space. Another new investigation bound for the U.S. National Laboratory portion of the station will look at using magnetized cells and tools to make it easier to handle cells and cultures, and improve the reproducibility of experiments.
In addition to the important research that cannot be conducted on Earth, Fischer and Whitson are scheduled to take part in the fifth spacewalk of the year on May 12 to replace an avionics box on the starboard truss called an ExPRESS Logistics Carrier, a storage platform.
For more than 16 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.