NASA’s most experienced astronaut, Peggy Whitson, hangs up her space helmet

Peggy WhitsonPeggy Whitson
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is framed by one of the windows in the International Space Station’s Cupola during her 2016-2017 tour of duty. (NASA Photo)

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.”

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”:

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