Peggy Whitson grew up in Iowa. She sold chickens to get her pilot's license. Right now, she's on the International Space Station. Whitson is a NASA astronaut; at 57, she's the oldest women ever in space; she's completed 7 spacewalks, tying the record for walks by a woman; she's the first female commander of the International Space Station. According to CBS, Whitson's current project is to set up a second docking port, install a new computer relay box, and attach protective shielding to the outside of the Station.
When Whitson returns to Earth this spring, she'll set the record for the most time spent in orbit for any NASA astronaut with 534 days. When her next spacewalk takes place, Whitson will become the world's third most experienced spacewalker with 59 hours spacewalking.
Whitson told CBS News' Elaine Quijano, 'Breaking records has never been my goal. I think it's important that we're continually pushing our limits and showing that we can extend beyond what we have done before.' And Whitson, who was discouraged from pursuing a career in science, has done exactly that. She encourages young people 'to pursue something [and to] have fun along the way.'
And on continuing to set records as she grows older, Whitson says: 'Space flight's good for age, I have a lot less wrinkles up here.'
UPDATE: Whitson announced that she will extend her stay on the International Space Station by three months. By the end of April, Whitson will have spent more hours in space than any other U.S. astronaut, and extending her stay will increase those hours even more. Whitson is currently the only woman living on the ISS after arriving with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Thomas Pesquet, both of the European Space Agency, in November 2016. Novitskiy and Pesquet will leave the ISS in June, the originally-planned end time of their stay, called Expedition 51. Whitson plans to return to Earth in September. Later this month, she'll be joined on the ISS by cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronaut Jack Fischer. They'll accompany Whitson on her trip back to Earth this fall.
According to The Verge, Whitson said in her official statement: '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.'
UPDATE #2: Whitson has now set the record for most days in space, with another five months scheduled before she returns to Earth in September. She also faced another challenge: staying polite during a congratulatory phone call from Donald Trump.
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Olivia Loperfido is an English and psychology major at New York University's College of Arts and Sciences, and the junior editor of NYU's Mercer Street (2017-'18). She enjoys spending time with her dogs and tortoise, watching RuPaul's Drag Race, and contacting her state representatives. Follow her on Instagram here and contact her via email here.