Peggy Whitson: First Woman to Command the International Space Station, From Iowa, Total Badass
Peggy Whitson isn't just a biochemist and astronaut. She also commanded the International Space Station (ISS). AND she was the first woman to do it.
What a total freaking badass.
Before she reached her highest levels of fame, she earned her undergrad in biology and chemistry from Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant in 1981. The Beaconsfield native followed that up by heading to Houston, Texas, where she obtained her doctorate in biochemistry from Rice University in 1985.
In the following year, she went on to start her first position at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Johnson Space Center (JSC) as a research associate and would work as the supervisor for the Biochemistry Research Group at KRUG International.
She'd continue her work with NASA for just under two decades before officially becoming an astronaut, and her official title and job description changed several times. According to britannica.com,
Among other positions, she worked in the Biomedical Operations and Research branch at the JSC from 1989 to 1993 and was the deputy division chief of the Medical Sciences Division at the JSC from 1993 to 1996. She also participated in joint efforts between American and Soviet (later Russian) scientists.
After years of training in the astronaut program, her first trip to space came in June of 2002. Over this 185-day expedition, she, along with the other crew members, conducted over 20 experiments in microgravity while also operating and installing commercial payloads and hardware systems. She and the crew returned to earth in early December of the same year.
Her second escapade into the cosmos, coming in October of 2007, was where she truly earned her badge of honor as the first female commander of the ISS. Britannica once again expands on her role:
Whitson supervised and directed a significant expansion of the living and working space on the ISS, including the installation of components made by European, Japanese, and Canadian space agencies. During the six-month mission she also performed five space walks to carry out maintenance and assembly tasks.
The group returned in April of 2008.
In the following years, all Whitson did was add to her list of accolades. Brittanica tells us:
From 2009 to 2012, Whitson was chief of the Astronaut Office, which oversees all NASA astronaut activities, including crew selection and training. She was the first woman and the first civilian to hold that position.
On April 10, 2017, she became commander of the ISS Expedition 51 mission, which lasted until June 2. She made four space walks on which station components were maintained or replaced. As a cost-cutting measure, Russia decided to launch Soyuz MS-04 with only one cosmonaut. This made an empty seat, so Whitson’s mission was extended by three months to take that seat. She returned to Earth on September 3, 2017
The 289 days she spent in space was the longest single spaceflight by any woman. At age 57, she was also the oldest woman to go into space.
In adding each trip together, Whitson spent 665 days, 22 hours, and 22 minutes in space, becoming the most-experienced astronaut at NASA, and record-holder for time in space by a woman. Her total amount of time on space walks added up to 60 hours 21 minutes, also making her the record-holder for women in that category as well.
Again, total freaking badass.
She retired from NASA in 2018.