The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on 5 April 2017 that Peggy Whitson, the world’s oldest and most experienced spacewoman will remain on the International Space Station (ISS) until September 2017, extending her mission by three months.
The 57-year-old American astronaut had flown up to the space station in November 2016 along with two others, France’s Thomas Pesquet and Russia's Oleg Novitskiy, both of whom will return to earth as planned, in June 2017 but without Whitson.
This decision was taken after an agreement between NASA and the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos.
• This mission is Whitson’s third in space. She will be completing close to 10 months with the extension.
• The extension will help scientists monitor the changes that happen to Whitson’s body (if there are any) and add to the already existing knowledge that they gained from retired veteran astronaut Scott Kelly’s recent one-year space mission.
• Whitson already has spent more time in space than any other woman astronaut and last week she set a record for the most spacewalks by a woman, with eight spacewalks.
• She would also be taking over as the space station commander in the coming weekend, for the second time.
• Further on 24 April 2017, she would be setting a new US record for most accumulated time in space.
• The NASA record for most accumulated time in space is being held by former space station occupant Jeffrey Williams, who completed 534 days in space.
Welcoming the decision giving her 3 extra months in the orbit, Whitson stated that she loved being up there. She further added that living and working aboard the space station makes her feel like she is making the greatest contribution so she is dedicated to putting every second of her time there to good use and getting three extra months is exactly what she would have wished for.
NASA’s space station program director Kirk Shireman stated that Whitson’s skill and experience made her an incredible asset for the space body and her extra time will be put to a good use.
Whitson would be able to return in September in the Soyuz spacecraft that is scheduled to launch later this month. Unlike its previous missions, the spacecraft would be carrying one person lesser than usual. It would be returning with just two people this time, one American (Jack Fischer) and one Russian (Fyodor Yurchikhin), leaving a seat vacant for Whitson.
About Peggy Whitson
• Born on 9 February 1960, Whitson, a biochemistry researcher, became an astronaut in 1996.
• She served as NASA's chief astronaut from 2009 to 2012 becoming the only woman to ever hold the job.
• Her first space mission was in 2002, as a member of Expedition 5 to the International Space Station.
• She took off on her second mission to space in October 2007 with Expedition 16, as the first female commander of ISS.
• Both her stays aboard the ISS were of long duration, which made her NASA’s most experienced female astronaut with over 376 days in space.
• She went up for her third space mission in November 2017, as part of the crew of Expedition 50 and will now be heading Expedition 51.
• She will become the first female astronaut to command the ISS twice.