Spaceflight Insider

Astronaut Peggy Whitson retires from NASA

Peggy Whitson floats inside the International Space Station's Cupola window during Expedition 50. Photo Credit: NASA

Peggy Whitson floats inside the International Space Station’s Cupola window during Expedition 50. Photo Credit: NASA

Peggy Whitson retired from NASA on June 15, 2018, after 32 years with the space agency—22 as an astronaut. Between 2002 and 2017, she participated in three long-duration International Space Station expeditions, accumulating 665 days orbit—a record for any U.S. space flyer.

Whitson, now 58, concluded her most recent mission in September 2017. Her nine-month stay aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 50, 51 and 52 was the longest for any woman and included multiple spacewalks. In fact, according to NASA, she carries the title for the most spacewalks by a woman—10 totaling 60 hours, 21 minutes.

“Peggy Whitson is a testament to the American spirit,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a agency news release. “Her determination, strength of mind, character, and dedication to science, exploration, and discovery are an inspiration to NASA and America. We owe her a great debt for her service and she will be missed. We thank her for her service to our agency and country.”

Peggy Whitson, along with Fyodor Yurchinkhin and Jack Fischer, pose for one last photo before closing the hatch and returning to Earth at the conclusion of Expedition 52 in 2017. Photo Credit: NASA

Peggy Whitson, along with Fyodor Yurchinkhin and Jack Fischer, pose for one last photo before closing the hatch and returning to Earth at the conclusion of Expedition 52 in 2017. Photo Credit: NASA

Whitson was born in Mount Ayr, Iowa. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1981 and finished a doctorate in biochemistry from Rice university in 1985.

She began her career at NASA in 1986 as a National Research Council Resident Research Associate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. From 1992 to 1995 she was a project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir program, the first joint U.S.-Russia cooperation since the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.

In 1996 Whitson was selected to be an astronaut. Her first mission was the space station’s Expedition 5 in 2002. She spent more than 184 days in space and helped install the Mobile Base System, the P1 and S1 truss segments and performed a spacewalk in a Russian Orlan spacesuit.

In October 2007, she went to the ISS again as part of Expedition 16. During that 192-day mission, she served as commander—the first female commander of the ISS—and was present for the addition of the Harmony module. Additionally, she performed five spacewalks.

Once back on the ground, she served as chief of the astronaut corps from 209 to 2012, according to NASA. She was the first woman to occupy that position and the first non-military astronaut corps chief.

“It has been the utmost honor to have Peggy Whitson represent our entire NASA Flight Operations team,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson, in a news release. “She set the highest standards for human spaceflight operations, as well as being an outstanding role model for women and men in America and across the globe. Godspeed, Peg.”

Whitson stepped down as the chief astronaut in 2009 to begin training for her third and final flight, which was supposed to be a standard six-month mission. But during her stay, Russia announced it was reducing its crew size from three to two. This meant that NASA could fly an additional U.S. astronaut.

In a bid to keep the station at a full six-person crew complement over the summer, NASA extended Whitsons stay by three months.

During Expedition 51, she became the first female to command the ISS twice.

“Peggy is a classmate and a friend, and she will be deeply missed,” the current chief of the Astronaut Office, Pat Forrester, said in a news release. “Along with her record setting career, she leaves behind a legacy of her passion for space.”

Video courtesy of NASA



Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity. He met with members of the SpaceFlight Insider team during the flight of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket with the MUOS-4 satellite. Richardson joined our team shortly thereafter. His passion for space ignited when he watched Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space Oct. 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized his true calling was communicating to others about space. Since joining SpaceFlight Insider in 2015, Richardson has worked to increase the quality of our content, eventually becoming our managing editor. @TheSpaceWriter

Reader Comments


When NASA selected Peggy Whitson and the other 34 American recruits for the 1996 astronaut class, it was specifically with ISS in mind. At that time NASA was hoping to keep the shuttle program going till 2020. So it’s fair to say, even though the shuttles are now history, Peggy and most of the “Sardines” lived the dream on ISS. I hope she gets the national recognition she deserves in her retirement.

I would like to reach out to Peggy Whitson congratulate her and say that she is a most fabulous woman on this whole planet God bless you lady you go girl

And yes you do deserve everything in this world that can possibly give to you

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