Astronaut and alumna Peggy Whitson tapped as Rice’s 2024 commencement speaker

Peggy Whitson

Alumna Peggy Whitson ’86, America's most experienced astronaut, will deliver the address at Rice's 111th commencement during the undergraduate ceremony May 4.

Throughout her 37-year career, Whitson has flown on three NASA long-duration space flights and Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2), accumulating 675 days in space, more than any other American astronaut or female astronaut in the world.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson
Peggy Whitson (Photo credit: Axiom Space) 

Whitson is currently serving as director of human spaceflight for Houston-based Axiom Space. Over the past almost four decades, she has held various remarkable leadership positions, often being the first woman to do so, including NASA's chief of the Astronaut Office, twice as commander of the International Space Station, chair of NASA's Astronaut Selection Board, NASA's Operations Branch chief and NASA deputy division chief for both the Medical Sciences Division and the Astronaut Office, and as commander of Ax-2, a private space mission in May 2023.

"Whitson's background, career path, accomplishments and work in space exploration are truly impressive and trailblazing," said Rice President Reginald DesRoches in an email to the Rice community. "Paula and I are looking forward to hosting Peggy and to welcoming her back to Rice. Her message to our graduates will undoubtedly be inspiring."

During her three previous space missions to the International Space Station (Expeditions 5, 16, 50/51/52), she conducted 10 spacewalks, logging over 60 hours in space. Throughout her career she has contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.

Whitson received degrees in biology and chemistry from lowa Wesleyan and a doctoral degree in biochemistry from Rice. She has been honored with numerous awards, including NASA medals in Leadership, Outstanding Leadership and Exceptional Service; TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World (2018); and Women in Aviation Lifetime Achievement Award (2017).

Whitson grew up on a farm outside the town of Beaconsfield, Iowa, with her siblings and parents, who were farmers. She decided to become an astronaut after she watched the first moon landing on television as a child in 1969.

Rice University's 111th commencement ceremonies will be held May 3-4. For more information and updates on Rice's 2024 commencement events, please visit the Rice commencement website .