NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who holds the U.S. record for most cumulative time in space, is retiring after 22 years in the astronaut corps and three tours of duty on the International Space Station.
Whitson, 58, became the station’s first female commander in 2007, the first woman to head the Astronaut Office in 2009, and the oldest woman to fly in space in 2016. She also holds the record for most spacewalks by a woman (10).
Her total in-space time of 665 days — gained during space station stays in 2002, 2008 and 2016-2017 — puts her on top of the list for NASA astronauts. Only six spacefliers, all Russians, rank higher.
“Peggy Whitson is a testament to the American spirit,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “Her determination, strength of mind, character, and dedication to science, exploration, and discovery are an inspiration to NASA and America. We owe her a great debt for her service and she will be missed. We thank her for her service to our agency and country.”
.@AstroPeggy Whitson, who holds the US record for most cumulative time in space, is retiring. Working here since 1986, she worked in several scientific roles before becoming an astronaut in 1996, eventually flying 3 times to @Space_Station. Read more: https://t.co/poZVG8yLk0 pic.twitter.com/Og0TBcnLx3
— NASA (@NASA) June 15, 2018
Even before joining the astronaut corps, Whitson made a name for herself as a biochemist and research associate at NASA. She served as project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir Program and co-chair of the U.S.-Russian Mission Science Working Group.
The Iowa native’s role in space station research has earned her a string of scientific citations, and she’s been featured in media spotlights ranging from Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World to National Geographic’s “One Strange Rock” TV documentary series.
In a valedictory tweet, Whitson thanked her supporters and said “it’s been the greatest honor to live out my lifelong dream of being a NASA astronaut”:
It’s been the greatest honor to live out my lifelong dream of being a @NASA Astronaut. Thank you to the #NASAVillage and all who have supported me along the way. As I reminisce on my many treasured memories, it’s safe to say my journey at NASA has been out of this world! pic.twitter.com/F4Dzrud4yL
— Peggy Whitson (@AstroPeggy) June 15, 2018