If Peggy Whitson isn’t one of your space heroes, she’s going to be by the time you’ve finished reading this article.
The NASA astronaut returned safely home to Earth from her third stint aboard the International Space Station on Sunday, landing in Kazakhstan with an impressive collection of records under her belt.
At 665 days total, she’s now the US record holder for the most time spent in space, coming in at eighth globally, and first for women. And she has smashed the previous US record of 534 days, set by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, in August of last year.
This was Whitson’s third mission – spanning Expeditions 50, 51 and 52 – and she spent 288 days aboard the ISS. This is also more than any other woman globally, breaking the record set by ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti in 2015 (just under 200 days).
But that’s not all. At 57 years of age, Whitson is now the oldest female astronaut, and the most experienced female spacewalker, with 10 extravehicular activities (EVAs) to her name.
She was the first woman to ever command the ISS, during her second mission to space as part of Expedition 16 in 2007 and 2008. Her second stint as commander was during Expedition 51, so she’s now also the first woman to command the ISS twice.
“I have noted in more than a few interviews that I am not overly comfortable with the praise about the records,” Whitson said in a NASA release.
“I honestly do think that it is critical that we are continuously breaking records, because that represents us moving forward in exploration. I feel lucky to have been in a position to take advantage of the opportunities that I have had, and yet I do acknowledge that my dedication and work ethic helped put me in those positions.
“Recognising all that, it is still difficult for me to come to grips with the fact that I have the potential to be a role model,” said Whitson.
“I am working on paying forward some of the advice and mentoring that I received on my journey, in hopes that one day those young people will do the same, and look back on a life in which they leapt at the opportunities and broke their own records.”
Whitson, who according to the Associated Press set a “breakneck pace” for research projects aboard the space station, returned to Earth alongside two crewmates.
They were NASA’s Jack Fischer, who has spent 136 days in space, and Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 52 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, who has now spent a total of 673 days in space, putting him seventh on the all-time endurance list.
The global record-holder is Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who has spent 879 days in space across five missions.
Whitson remarked that she was looking forward to flush toilets and pizza (a woman after our own hearts), but that she will forever be homesick for space.
“I will miss seeing the enchantingly peaceful limb of our Earth from this vantage point,” she said. “Until the end of my days, my eyes will search the horizon to see that curve.”