534 days, 2 hours, 49 minutes and counting.
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson flew through the standing record for cumulative time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut at 1:27 a.m. EDT on April 24, and with the recent extension of her stay at the International Space Station, she has five months to rack up a new one.
Record holder is a familiar title for Whitson – she’s held several over the course of her NASA career. In 2008, Whitson became the first woman to command the space station, and on April 9 became the first woman to command it twice. In March, she seized the record for most spacewalks by a female. Now, after launching on Nov. 17 with 377 days in space already under her belt, she’s surpassed astronaut Jeff Williams’ previous United States record of 534 days, 2 hours and 48 minutes of cumulative time in space.
This is Whitson’s third long-duration stay onboard the space station, and in March her mission was extended into September, increasing the amount of valuable astronaut time available for experiments on board the station. When she returns to Earth, she’ll have spent more than 650 days in space, and decades supporting spaceflight from the ground.
Whitson began her NASA career in the 1980s. With a doctorate in biochemistry, she held a number of research-related positions, and in 1992 was named project scientist of the Shuttle-Mir Program. She also served as deputy division chief of the Medical Sciences Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and co-chair of the U.S.-Russian Mission Science Working Group before being selected as an astronaut in 1996.
She made her first trip to the International Space Station in 2002. Space shuttle Endeavour delivered her and her Expedition 5 crewmates for a 184-day stay in the four modules that made up the space station at the time. While there, she took part in 21 science investigations and became the first NASA science officer. In 2008, Whitson returned as commander of Expedition 16, and was on hand for the installation of the Harmony node, the Columbus laboratory and the Kibo logistics module. She spent another 192 days in space and performed her first five spacewalks.
Since returning for her third stay in November, Whitson has added another three spacewalks to her list, bringing her total time spent outside the space station to more than 53 hours. With the title for most spacewalks by a female and most time spent spacewalking by a female already secure, she’ll add to both numbers on May 12, when she is scheduled to venture out of the station’s airlock again.
Between trips to space, Whitson was named chief of the astronaut office in 2009, becoming the first female to hold the position, which she remained in until 2012.