Trailblazer Peggy Whitson: First Female Commander Of The International Space Station Keeps Breaking Records

On Monday morning President Donald Trump was joined by his daughter, Ivanka, and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, as he made contact with the International Space Station to congratulate Peggy Whitson on her record-breaking contribution to the NASA space program.

In the early hours of Monday morning, Peggy Whitson set a new record by reaching a cumulative total of 535 days in space. The previous record-holder was Jeff William's who had reached 534 days.

Via a video link that was set up between the Oval Office and the International Space Station, President Trump was able to communicate with Whitson and her fellow crew member, Jack Fischer. Trump thanked Whitson on behalf of the American nation and the world.

"This is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight. You have broken the record for the most total time spent in space by an American astronaut. That's an incredible record to break."
Trump congratulates Peggy Whitson on her new record
President Donald Trump, flanked by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and his daughter Ivanka Trump, speaks with International Space Station Commander Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer. [Image by Susan Walsh/AP Images]

Peggy Whitson is a multiple record-holder and continues to shatter the glass ceiling on a daily basis. Back in 2008, Whitson became the first female commander of the International Space Station. During NASA's Expedition 16, launched in October 2007, Peggy spent a total of 191 days, 19 hrs and 8 mins in space.

In return, Whitson told that that for her it is a "huge honor to break a record like this." She also said that she felt honored to be able to represent "all the folks at NASA who make space travel possible and make me setting this record feasible."

Trump took the opportunity to take a swipe at politicians by expressing that he had "been dealing with politicians so much" and that he was "so much more impressed with [astronauts]."

Whitson and Trump also spoke about NASA's future program that would move on to Mars. Peggy said that the trip is so expensive that it "will require some international cooperation." However, for Whitson, it is a project that is "so worthwhile doing."

The conversation did not end without a dose of Trump's signature turgidity. The president alluded to a second term as a foregone conclusion when he joked that the trip to Mars would need to be sped up a little bit so that the achievement would come during "my first term or, at worst, my second."

Let's take a look at Peggy Whitson's record-breaking streak.

Before her first space mission in 2002, Whitson had worked as an American biochemistry researcher. Hailing from Beaconsfield in Iowa, she graduated from Mount Ayr community school and went on to enroll at Iowa Wesleyan College where she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Chemistry in 1981. Whitson continued along the academic research path until she earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Rice University in 1985.

Between 1985 and 1996, Whitson held various research posts at many space centers, from Texas to Cape Canaveral. During this period she also returned to academic research and worked for the Department of Internal Medicine, and Department of Human Biological Chemistry and Genetics at the University of Texas. She also served as an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Rice University, to further research in the field of Biochemical and Genetic Engineering.

Whitson joined an astronaut training program in April 1996, and after two years she transferred to the Crew Test Support Team in Russia until 1999. In 2002, Peggy served as the commander of the NEEMO 5 mission aboard the Aquarius underwater laboratory, where she had to live and work underwater for fourteen days.

Peggy Whitson is the commander of the main crew to the International Space Station (ISS)
U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson speaks during a news conference in Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. [Image by Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Images]

Whitson served as the first NASA science officer as part of the crew for Expedition 5, aboard the International Space Station. Peggy remained in the ISS for six months, and during her tenure, she installed a range of important system technologies. Peggy also performed her first spacewalk which lasted for 4 hours and 25 minutes. By the time she returned to earth, Whitson had logged 184 days, 22 hours and 14 minutes in space.

In December 2007, while carrying the fourth spacewalk of Expedition 16, NASA's Mission Control informed Whitson that she had become the female astronaut with the most cumulative spacewalk (EVA) time in the history of NASA.

Three hours and 37 minutes into her fifth EVA, Whitson surpassed NASA astronaut Sunita Williams' record to become the female with the most total EVAs. Upon her return to Earth in 2008, Peggy and her crew experienced a harrowing re-entry which subjected them to forces about eight times that of Earth's gravity.

Later that year, Whitson returned to the International Space Station to become its first female commander.

Whitson is the first woman to command the space station; she has commanded it twice. Her first stint as commander was in April 2008, and she's commanding the current crew. When Whitson arrived at the ISS for her current stay, she became the first female to command the station twice. She will return to Earth in September, at which point she will have acquired another record by having spent a whopping 666 days in space, which is more than any other American.

Peggy Whitson still holds the record for the most spacewalks by any female astronaut. It seems the days of male hegemony in the world of space exploration are coming to an end. One giant leap for womankind.

[Featured Image by Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Images]