Feb. 9, 1960 – Present
Born in Iowa in 1960, Ms. Whitson entered the world at a time when lunch counter sit-in’s paved the way for Civil Rights and John F. Kennedy won (and was thus voted in) as President of the United States. It was an era of hope and struggle, a nation trying to redefine itself as one who valued all its citizens, and one in which a future for the underserved held promise.
It’s not common for History’s Heroines to feature a contemporary woman, but then again, Peggy Whitson is no ordinary woman. She is one with a long history of beating the odds; one to attain the unattainable. Although it may have begun as a child, the recorded portion of Ms. Whitson’s record-setting started, in 1985, with her attainment of a doctorate from Rice University. As a woman, holding such an advanced degree may seem commonplace now, but, with the exception of the era during WWII, from 1900 to the 1980’s, less than ten percent of women overall held such prestigious acclaim. Today that number has risen to approximately a third of all females (or 50% of all doctorate degrees awarded).
By the time she graduated in 1985, Bob Geldolf was holding his world-famous Live Aid concert, and Ronald Regan was President. Much had changed for the world and Ms. Whitson. With an advanced degree in biochemistry, Peggy went to work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. There, she worked in various divisions including the Shuttle-Mir program and the Medicinal Sciences Division and became the co-chairwoman of the U.S.-Russia Mission Science Working Group. Her success in those departments led to her promotion to becoming an astronaut in 1996.
In 2002, she made her first trip to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Endeavor Shuttle. It would become a lifelong passion of hers that would lead to a series of firsts for her and the world.
In 2008, she became the first woman to command the ISS and by April 2017, the first female to command it twice. By 2009, she was named the first Chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office, one she held from 2009-2012.
This past March 2017, Ms. Whitson held the record for the most spacewalks attained by a female astronaut with a record-setting ten walks/ or 53 hours. Just one month later, in April 2017, she broke the record for the most cumulative time in space by a U.S. Astronaut with 665 days in space.
During her time in orbit, she has contributed significantly to scientific advancement. Peggy has participated in hundreds of experiments in biochemistry, biotechnology, and physical and earth sciences. Some of her research has focused on successfully improving the effectiveness of chemotherapy medications for the treatment of cancer.
At 57, she is now the world’s oldest female astronaut, and as current ISS Commander, Randy Bresnick states, “An American Space Ninja.”