NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson set yet another historical record this week; now surpassing the most time ever spent in space by an American.
At 1:27 a.m. EDT on Monday, Whitson surpassed the previous record held by astronaut Jeffrey Williams at 534 days, 2 hours, 49 minutes and counting total time in orbit above the planet Earth.
Whitson is no stranger to the title of record holder. A seasoned astronaut and doctor of biochemistry, Whitson made headlines just weeks ago when she set a different type of space-based record: participating in more spacewalks than any other woman in history. She was also the first female to command the International Space Station, a feat she recently achieved for a second time as recently as April 9th, making her not only the first woman to do so, but also the first woman to do so twice.
Whitson, along with rookie astronaut Air Force Colonel Jack Fischer, received a call from President Trump and his daughter Ivanka soon after she attained her most recent historical record.
“Peggy, Jack, and Kate, I know that America’s students are thrilled to hear from you. But first, I want to say that this is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight.” The President said via video call. “Today, Commander Whitson, you have broken the record for the most total time spent in space by an American astronaut — 534 days and counting. That’s an incredible record to break. And on behalf of our nation and, frankly, on behalf of the world, I’d like to congratulate you. That is really something.”
He then asked the astronaut what it felt like to break “such a big and important record?”
“Well, it’s actually a huge honor to break a record like this, but it’s an honor for me basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make this spaceflight possible and who make me setting this record feasible.” Whitson said to the president and school students all over the country who were able to watch the conversation in real-time.
“We are all very much looking forward, as directed by your new NASA bill — we’re excited about the missions to Mars in the 2030s. And so we actually, physically, have hardware on the ground that’s being built for the SLS rocket that’s going to take us there. And, of course, the hardware being built now is going to be for the test flights that will eventually get us there. But it’s a very exciting time, and I’m so proud of the team.”
The president also addressed Fischer, the newest astronaut to reach the ISS and an experienced fighter pilot.
“I will say, Colonel Fischer, you just arrived, and how was your trip? Complicated? Easy? How did it go?” The president asked.
“Oh, sir, it was awesome. It made even my beloved F-22 feel a little bit underpowered,” Fischer said before describing some of the experiments he’s already gotten to witness in space.
“Sir, it’s amazing. Oh, and then, you know, now I’m talking to the President of the United States while hanging from a wall. It’s amazing. The International Space Station is, by far, the best example of international cooperation and what we can do when we work together in the history of humanity. And I am so proud to be a part of it. And it’s just cool.”
After discussing plans for a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s and learning more about the day-to-day activities astronauts conduct on the ISS, President Trump concluded the conversation by once again congratulating Commander Peggy Whitson on setting yet another orbital record.
“And, Dr. Whitson, I just — congratulations. Amazing. What an amazing thing that you’ve done. Everybody here — I know you’re family — but everybody here is incredibly proud of the record you just broke. I hope that every young American watching today finds, in your example, a reason to love space and think about space because many great things are going to come out, tremendous discoveries in medicine and so many other fields.” The President Said.
“So thank you very much. I want to say God bless you, God bless America. We are very, very proud of you, and very proud of your bravery. Thank you very much.”
Images courtesy of NASA