NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson breaks yet another space record

24 Apr 2017

Image: Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson now holds the record for the longest time spent in space after notching up 534 days looking down from above.

Last September, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams took the mantle of the longest amount of time spent by any person in space. At 534 days, two hours and 48 minutes, it was quite the tally.

However Peggy Whitson, adding to her long resume of space achievements, has taken his mantle.

Records galore

Already the first woman to command the International Space Station (first taking command in 2008, and taking the job again in 2016), as well as the holder of the most spacewalks for a woman, Whitson is now outright leader of this landmark achievement, surpassing Williams’ record this morning.

This is Whitson’s third long-duration stay aboard the space station and, with her current mission recently extended to September, she will have spent more than 650 days in space, cumulatively, by the time she returns.

Long stays aboard the ISS are crucial for NASA’s plans to send humans to Mars.

NASA is moving forward with plans for a cislunar ‘gateway’ outpost for future human missions, with decisions about how to develop it expected in the coming months.

The International Space Station’s 12-month mission, completed last year, was one of the primary projects to investigate just how these outposts might work, providing an invaluable investigation into how the human body can manage a lengthy stay in space.

Whitson began her NASA career in the 1980s, holding a number of research posts throughout her nearly 40 years with the agency.

Numerous titles

With a doctorate in biochemistry, one of her notable posts in her opening spell with NASA saw her named project scientist of the Shuttle-Mir Program.

She also served as deputy division chief of the medical sciences division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and as co-chair of the US-Russian Mission Science Working Group, before being selected as an astronaut in 1996.

Originally sent up to the ISS on Endeavour in 2002 – becoming the first NASA science officer to board the station – her first stint in space saw Whitson clock up 184 days.

Build it and they will come

In 2008, Whitson returned t0 the ISS as commander during the installation of various pieces of equipment, including the Harmony node, the Columbus laboratory and the Kibo logistics module.

Since returning for her third stay in November, Whitson has now made it to eight spacewalks, bringing her total time spent outside the space station to more than 53 hours.

Between trips to space, Whitson was named chief of the astronaut office in 2009, becoming the first woman to hold the position.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic