Science News

‘American Space Ninja’ Peggy Whitson Sets New Records On Her Return

Photo from Peggy Whitson's Twitter

Astronaut Peggy Whitson broke records when she touched down in Kazakhstan on Saturday, wrapping up a 288-day-mission aboard the International Space Station.

Whitson landed with a fellow American and a Russian astronaut in their Soyuz capsule, NPR reports. Over the course of her career, she has accumulated 665 days in space, or 21 months, making it the longest time away from Earth for an American in history, and certainly more than any woman in the world.

Whitson, who is also a biochemist, clocked in 534 days in orbit in April, breaking the previous record for an American astronaut. She is also the world’s oldest female astronaut at 57 years old, the most experienced female spacewalker with 10 space walks to her name, and the first woman to have commanded the ISS twice, according to the Associated Press.

Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia, who returned with Whitson, has a bit more space time to his credit with 673 days. American Jack Fischer, the third person on the team, spent 136 days in space.

NASA said that Whitson and Fischer “contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.” Their research included studying antibodies “that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment,” and they also examined changes that happen in astronauts’ eyes with the lack of gravity.

Randy Bresnik, the space station’s new commander, praised the returning astronauts before they left, saying, “We are in your debt for the supreme dedication that you guys have to the human mission of exploration.” He called Whitson an “American space ninja.”

Now that she’s back on Earth, Whitson said she’ll be enjoying the advantages on the ground.

Flush toilets. Trust me, you don’t want to know the details. Pizza has been on my mind for a month or two.

This may very well be Whitson’s last spaceflight, but she says she will continue working on space programs. “My desire to contribute to the spaceflight team as we move forward in our exploration of space has only increased over the years.” She will miss many things about space, she added. “I know that I will hugely miss the freedom of floating and moving with the lightest of touch. I will miss seeing the enchantingly peaceful limb of our Earth from this vantage point. Until the end of my days, my eyes will search the horizon to see that curve.”

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