NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, already the oldest woman in space, set a record early Monday for the longest cumulative time spent in space by any American — 534 days, 2 hours, 49 minutes and counting.
Whitson flew through the record at 1:27 a.m. Eastern time, and her extended stay at the International Space Station is expected to keep her in orbit for five more months, NASA reported.
The 57-year-old has racked up several records. The oldest woman in space became the first woman to command the space station in 2008. On April 9, she became the first woman to command it twice. And in March, she set the record for most spacewalks by a woman.
On Monday, with 377 days in space, she surpassed astronaut Jeff Williams’ U.S. record for cumulative time in space. When she is expected to return to Earth in September, she will have spent more than 650 days in space, NASA said.
Before her latest launch in November, Whitson acknowledged to reporters that much of the interest in her has been for being “old and experienced.” She told reporters in preflight interviews that it gets easier with age, knowing what to expect and how to set priorities for her mission.
“I love working at NASA, but the part that has been the most satisfying on a day-to-day basis, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute, has been working on board the space station,” she said. “Even if I’m just cleaning the vents in the fans, it all is important.”
The Iowa-born biochemist’s NASA career began in the 1980s as a researcher. She became a project scientist on the Shuttle-Mir Program in 1992 and also served as deputy division chief of the Medical Sciences Division and as cochair of the U.S.-Russian Mission Science Working Group before being selected as an astronaut in 1996.
Her first trip to the International Space Station came in 2002 for a 184-day stay. She returned in 2008 as commander of Expedition 16. Her 192 days in space on that mission included her first five spacewalks.
On the current mission, she has added three spacewalks, bringing her total time outside the space station to more than 53 hours.
The world record for most time in space, 879 days, is held by Russian Gennady Padalka, the AP reported.
Whitson’s record-breaking mission drew congratulations from the White House, CNN and other news groups reported. Calling from the Oval Office, President Donald Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins spoke via video with Whitson and fellow crewman Jack Fischer.
“This is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight,” Trump said. “You have broken the record for the most total time spent in space by an American astronaut. That’s an incredible record to break.”
Whitson responded: “It’s actually a huge honor to break a record like this. It’s an honor for me to be representing all the folks at NASA who make space travel possible and make me setting this record feasible.”