Space station trip marks new high for women

Image: Peggy Whitson
At the age of 56, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is beginning a months-long tour of duty on the International Space Station. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

Today’s liftoff of a Soyuz spaceship heading for the International Space Station launched NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson into the history books as well.

The three-time spaceflier, who turns 57 in February, is now the oldest woman to go into space. Whitson took the title from NASA teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan, who had held the record since her 2007 space shuttle flight (when she was 55).

In a NASA interview conducted last year, Whitson joked that a documentary film crew was following her around mostly because she was “old and experienced.”

“All right, yes, I’m old,” she said.

The Iowa-born Whitson made her first trip to space in 2003, when she became the first woman to take command of the space station. She served a second orbital tour of duty in 2008, building up her total time in space to 377 days. That’s the record for a woman astronaut, and the record will be rising on every day she spends in orbit from now on.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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