Peggy Whitson, a NASA astronaut currently onboard the International Space Station, is set to break the United States record for cumulative days in space within weeks. However, her record will now be far harder to beat after the space agency decided to extend her stay on the ISS by three months.
Whitson had been scheduled to return to Earth as part of Expedition 51, which would have seen her arrive back on the Blue Marble in June, having broken the cumulative space record on 24th April. However, the extended stay will now see her return as part of Expedition 52, with a scheduled return in September.
“This is great news,” Whitson said, speaking from the ISS. “I love being up here. Living and working aboard the space station is where I feel like I make the greatest contribution, so I am constantly trying to squeeze every drop out of my time here. Having three more months to squeeze is just what I would wish for.”
The United States record for cumulative days in space is currently held by Jeff Williams, who has racked up a total of 534 days over four space flights. When Whitson completes her current mission she will have totalled over 600 days.
However, she will still have some way to go to break the overall record, which is held by Roscosmos cosmonaut Gennady Padalka with a total of 879 days in space over 5 missions. But with this being only Whitson’s third time in space, it is always possible that NASA could send her back to the ISS in the future, particularly as she is considered one of the most senior astronauts currently active within the agency.
“Peggy’s skill and experience makes her an incredible asset aboard the space station,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA’s International Space Station Program Manager, in comments about the decision to continue her stay aboard the ISS. “By extending the stay of one of NASA’s most veteran astronauts, our research, our technology development, our commercial and our international partner communities will all benefit.”
Whitson first went into space on Expedition 5 back in 2002, having been selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1996 following a stint as a project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir programme.
Since then she has become one of the most successful female astronauts of all time, and in 2008 was made the first female commander of the ISS, before going on to become the first woman to command it twice.
She is also no stranger to record-breaking. She has already spent more cumulative days in space than any other woman, and has completed the most spacewalks of any female, beating Sunita Williams’ record on her second mission.