Astronaut Peggy Whitson just broke the world record for most time spent in space by any American – 665 days. That’s not the only record she’s beaten, however.The first female, and first non-pilot to serve as Chief Astronaut, she’s held multiple firsts for NASA. According to the Associated Press, she is the world’s oldest female astronaut (57 years old), the most experienced female spacewalker (10 space walks) and she is the first woman to have commanded the space station twice.
Not only an astronaut, but a biochemist, Whitson and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia “contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science” while aboard the ISS. Their work included research into antibodies “that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment,” as well as looking into the changes that astronauts eyes undergo in an environment with so little gravity.
So who is this incredible woman who we’re only just learning about now? That’s what we we’re about to find out.
The daughter of a farmer in Iowa, Peggy dreamed of being an astronaut since she was a young girl. After years of hard work, multiple degrees and relentless dedication, Whitson has achieved everything (and more) than she dreamed of as a little girl. Her recent time in space gave her time to reflect on her achievements and younger years. While in orbit, the 57-year-old biochemist started writing a letter to her 9-year-old self. She completed it back home in Houston at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Below are my favorite excerpts from the letter:
The year you graduate high school, NASA will select the first female astronauts. You will dream of exploration. Know that what you dream for might seem impossible, but you will be successful as long as you make your life decisions based on your own value system and not others. So ignore the naysayers, ignore the people who say you can’t become an astronaut. Instead use it as motivation.
It will be 10 years of applying before ever becoming an astronaut. The rejections will be discouraging, but in your typical style you will just keep trying. All those years of anticipation will be surpassed when the solid rocket boosters ignite and you will literally roar into space.
Seeing the Earth for the first time in orbit, you will be surprised that you never noticed the quality and texture of colors. High above Earth, you will remember what your parents taught you growing up on the farm: problems don’t always have elegant or expensive solutions. Dad will teach you that number 2 wire and pliers plus a healthy attitude can fix almost anything.
Believe it or not, you will spend more time in space than any other American astronaut and earn the nickname Space Ninja. You will grow soy beans on orbit while your father will grow soy beans on Earth. You will have the opportunity to help build the engineering marvel that is the International Space Station. You will walk, in space 10 times! You will find that living in space can actually become a home, in spite of tools floating away. Alien to all you know, you will adapt and you will love it.
Know that even though it is incomprehensible to you, you will be a role model. I am still struggling with this one, so you need to step up a bit earlier than I have done. I would tell you not to underestimate your abilities, but since I know you I’ll just say: challenge yourself. You will learn that you are so much more capable than you might imagine or even dream.
The Older You