It appears that there is no stopping NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson as she continues her record-smashing stint on the International Space Station. Last Monday, she did it again by beating NASA’s previous longest cumulative time in space record of 534 days.
Whitson surpassed a previous NASA time in space record set by fellow astronaut Jeff Williams who clocked a total of 534 days, two hours and 48 minutes orbiting the earth, according to the Smithsonian. As of last Monday, April 24, 2017, Peggy officially became the most experienced U.S. astronaut with the longest cumulative time spent in space under her belt.
President Donald Trump congratulated Whitson via a video call for her record-breaking feat, CNN reported. Speaking from the Oval Office, the president commended Peggy for breaking the time in space record by an American astronaut.
“On behalf of our nation and, frankly, on behalf of our world, I’d like to thank you,” Trump told Whitson. The president even managed to joke to the astronaut saying, “I’ve been dealing with politicians so much. I’m so much more impressed with these people.”
It has been a record-breaking career for the Iowa-born Peggy Whitson. She joined NASA’s Biomedical Operations and Research Branch as a research biochemist in 1989. She quickly rose through the ranks until she was considered as an astronaut candidate in April 1996 and eventually started training by August of the same year.
After years of training and preparation, Whitson’s first space mission finally happened in 2002. On her second mission in 2007, she earned the distinction of being the first female commander of the International Space Station.
At 57-years-old, Commander Whitson also holds the record for being the oldest woman to reach space and do a spacewalk. Peggy also holds the record of having the most number of spacewalks or extravehicular activity (EVA) for a female astronaut. Her latest EVA, which happened just last March, is already her eighth.
Aside from setting the new NASA time in space record, Commander Peggy Whitson also holds the world record for the longest cumulative time spent in space for a female astronaut. In second place is another NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who managed to clock a total of 321 days, 17 hours, 15 minutes in space.
It might take some time for anyone to surpass the new NASA time in space record set by Commander Whitson as she is still currently on the ISS, her second stint as the commander of the space station. By the time she completes her third mission in September this year, she will have logged a total of 666 days in space.
But the figure still falls short of the current world record for the total number of days spent in space. Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka still holds the world record, having managed to log a total of 879 days spent in space over five missions. In second place is another Russian cosmonaut Yuri Ivanovich Malenchenko, having spent a total of 828 days in space, while at third place is cosmonaut Sergei Konstantinovich Krikalev after clocking a total of 803 days.
Since the dawn of time, the stars have always enthralled the human race. With earth almost bursting at the seams with the burgeoning human population, scientists are starting to consider the vastness of space as the ultimate solution. In fact, establishing a colony on our neighboring planet Mars is now being seriously assessed and was even discussed briefly during president Trump’s call to the ISS.
But before the human race can go past earth’s orbit, vast technical challenges have to be overcome. For instance, the adverse effects of zero gravity on the human body such as the loss of muscle mass, endurance and strength have to be carefully studied and, hopefully, addressed. Future generations of space travelers may have to thank today’s researchers like Commander Peggy Whitson for their efforts and dedication, paving the way for the future of space exploration.