Whitson returns from ISS with new U.S. space record

Astronaut and Rice alumna Peggy Whitson ’86 set a new mark of 665 days in space — the most by a U.S. astronaut — upon returning Sept. 3 from her third long-endurance mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Whitson and ISS Expedition 52 crewmates Jack Fischer and Fyodor Yurchikhin landed in Kazakhstan after a 288-day mission that began in November and included 4,623 Earth orbits. Whitson is eighth on the all-time space endurance list.

Peggy Whitson

Peggy Whitson ’86 returned Sept. 3 from the International Space Station with a U.S. record for most days in space. (Photo courtesy of AFP)

She earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry at Rice and is as an adjunct associate professor of biosciences at the university.

Whitson performed four spacewalks during Expedition 52, bringing her career total to 10, also a record for the most spacewalks ever performed by a woman. At 57, she is the oldest woman ever to fly in space, and her cumulative time in space is by far the most ever by a woman. Expedition 52’s 288 days also shattered Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti’s previous mark of 199 days for the longest single spaceflight by a woman.

Whitson’s no stranger to being first. In her initial six-month stint aboard the space station with Expedition 5 in 2002, she became the station’s first science officer and the first NASA astronaut ever to hold that title on any mission. On Expedition 16 in 2007 she became the first woman to command the station, and in 2009 she became the first woman and the first nonpilot to serve as chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.