There have been many successful space explorations, astronauts, and researchers for NASA. But, none so inspiring as the woman who holds the record for the most days in space. Peggy Whitson, with a recorded 665 days, places 8th in the world out of both men and women. She has also completed 2 six month tours of duty for space expeditions 5 and 16. As a female astronaut and a space station commander, Peggy Whitson has broken records throughout her career and changed the path for women in STEM everywhere.
Peggy Whitson was born in Iowa in 1960, where she graduated highschool and continued on to get her bachelor’s degree at Rice University in Houston, Texas. After earning her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Biology, she continued her research and education at Rice University to earn her Doctorate in Biochemistry (Wall, 2018). She was a part of both the predoctoral and postdoctoral Robert A. Welch Fellowship. After her research and time spent at Rice University, Dr. Whitson went on to work for NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. There, she worked as a National Research Council Resident Research Associate (Roberts, 2015).
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During her time at the Johnson Space Center she worked on multiple expeditions and research projects. She worked as a researcher and technology monitor for the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch and as a developer for the Bone Cell Research Experiment. While at the space center in Houston, she also was a part a Joint-Working Group between the United States and the USSR in Space and Medical Technology (Roberts, 2015). In 1992 she was the Project Scientist in the Shuttle-Mir Program where she worked until the conclusion of the program three years later. While working with this program, she was also responsible as the Deputy Division Chief of the entire Medical Sciences Division at the Johnson Space Center. Simultaneously, she worked with yet another US-Russian Mission Science Working Group as Co-Chair (Wall, 2018).
In 1996, Peggy Whitson was chosen as an astronaut candidate (Wall, 2018). This means that she was selected by NASA to be a part of the astronaut corps and to undergo a 2 year long candidacy training program. During the program, Peggy had to complete military water survival before beginning a flying course, and become scuba certified to prepare them for extra-vehicular activity training. She was also required to pass a swimming test. Although she was an Astronaut Candidate it did not mean she would become an astronaut, as all candidates have to complete and pass the training program (Astronaut Candidate Program). In order to officially become an astronaut, Peggy Whitson had to complete the International Space Station systems training, extra-vehicular activity skills training, robotics skills training, Russian language training, and aircraft flight readiness training. In 1998 Peggy Whitson became an official NASA astronaut. She became a part of the Astronauts Office Operations Planning Branch and was a lead for the Crew Test Report Team in Russia from 1998 to 1999 (Roberts, 2015).
Peggy’s first expedition was Expedition 5, launching June 5, 2002. She was aboard the space station for six months, where she was named the first NASA Science Officer. While aboard, she installed and utilized multiple systems and conducted 21 investigations in human life sciences and microgravity sciences. Dr. Whiton also performed a four hour and 25-minute spacewalk to install micrometeoroid shielding on a service module. The Expedition 5 crew consisted of one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts, who returned to Earth on December 7, 2002. From completing her first flight, Dr. Whitson had logged 184 days, 22 hours and 14 minutes in space (Roberts, 2015).
Peggy worked for the next several years as a NASA astronaut, including training as the backup International Space Station Commander for Expedition 14 and being a member of the Astronaut Selection Board in 2004 and again as a chair member in 2009. In October of 2007, Dr. Whitson was a part of Expedition 16, with the crew consisting of only herself and Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko of Russia. The third member of their crew consisted of different rotating astronauts coming in and out via flights. Dr. Whitson was the commander of Expedition 16, and as so she oversaw the first expansion of the International Space Station in several years. She performed five moonwalks to supervise the additions of the European Columbus Laboratory, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency pressurized module, and the Canadian Space Agency’s Dextre robot (Roberts, 2015). Peggy Whitson and her crewmate returned to Earth in April of 2008, logging 192 days.
Through a women’s record total of 10 career spacewalks, Dr. Whitson has logged 60 hours and 21 minutes. During Expedition 50/51, Peggy Whitson, age 57, travelled to the International Space Station for 17 days in 2016, setting the record as the oldest female astronaut to reach orbit and the first woman to command a space station twice (Wall, 2018). She set records for being the first woman and the first nonmilitary person to serve as Chief of NASA’s astronaut corps, which she held for three years until 2012.
Peggy Whitson retired in June 2018, but set records for women around the world. She worked on several projects, participated in 3 space expeditions, and had a career total of ten space walks. Most importantly, she blazed a trail for women in STEM. A NASA administrator has said that, as a female astronaut and an International Space Station Commander, Dr. Whitson is a testament to the American Spirit, due to her determination, strength of mind, character, and dedication to science, exploration, and discovery. (Wall, 2018). As a result of her diligence, commitment, and passion, along with her record setting experiences, Peggy Whitson is an inspiration to women, Americans, and astronauts worldwide.
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