After spending more time in space than any other American, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is finally ready to hang up her wings. The United States’ most experienced spaceflyer has announced her retirement on June 15, ending a stellar astronaut career that has seen her break record after record.
“It’s been the greatest honor to live out my lifelong dream of being a NASA astronaut,” 58-year-old Whitson wrote on Twitter on Friday, breaking the news that she is retiring from the space agency.
“As I reminisce on my many treasured memories, it’s safe to say my journey at NASA has been out of this world!” added the trailblazing NASA astronaut.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, Whitson has shattered a number of impressive records throughout her 32-year career at NASA. The seasoned astronaut has lived in space for a total of 665 days — a monumental achievement that only seven other people in the entire world, all of them Russian cosmonauts, have managed to perform.
This makes Whitson No. 8 on the all-time space endurance list. According to Space.com, the world record belongs to Gennady Padalkin, with a staggering 878 days spent in space. Meanwhile, the U.S. record was broken by Whitson on April 24, 2017, after clocking in a cumulative 534 days, 2 hours, and 48 minutes spent in orbit.
Whitson first came to work at NASA as a biochemist in 1986. But her real dream was to become an astronaut, a goal which she kept on pursuing for an entire decade.
The Insider reports that Whitson applied 10 times for the astronaut job she had always wanted until she was finally selected in 1996, then spent another six years training for her first space mission.
The now-retired astronaut has served on board the International Space Station (ISS) on three long-duration missions: Expedition 5 in 2002, Expedition 16 in 2008, and an extended mission which lasted close to a year, from November 2016 until September 2017, and covered Expeditions 50 through 52.
And, according to NASA, she managed to break at least one record on each of her three missions.
Right off the bat, during her first mission in space as part of Expedition 5, Whitson became the space agency’s first ISS science officer and took part in 21 research projects on board the space station.
During Expedition 16, Whitson became the first woman to ever assume command of the space station. She took charge of the ISS once again during Expedition 51, breaking another record for female astronauts as the first woman to helm ISS twice.
It was also during Expedition 51 that she broke the U.S. record for most cumulative time in space. A month later, Whitson broke yet another record as she ventured outside the ISS for her 10th spacewalk.
This achievement marked not just the most spacewalks performed by a woman astronaut, but also by a NASA astronaut, matching the record previously set by Michael Lopez-Alegria.
During those 10 spacewalks, Whitson raked in an impressive 60 hours and 21 minutes spent in the vastness of space beyond the shielding walls of the ISS — a record surpassed only by three other people, the Inquisitr reported yesterday.
Her latest extended mission on board the space station has been perhaps the most fruitful of them all, especially considering the number of records Whitson has set during her 288-day stay in space. At the beginning of this almost year-long mission, she became the oldest female astronaut in space and got to spend her 57th birthday in orbit.
The time she spent on Earth between her last two missions was equally filled with groundbreaking achievements, space agency officials point out.
“She served as chief of the astronaut corps from 2009 to 2012, becoming both the first woman to hold the position and the first non-military astronaut corps chief,” NASA stated in a news release praising Whitson’s long and successful career.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also commented on Whitson’s retirement.
“Peggy Whitson is a testament to the American spirit. Her determination, strength of mind, character, and dedication to science, exploration, and discovery are an inspiration to NASA and America. We owe her a great debt for her service and she will be missed. We thank her for her service to our agency and country.”