I'm talking about Peggy Whitson, biochemistry researcher, NASA astronaut, and former NASA Chief Astronaut. She was the first woman to command the International Space Station when she arrived as part of Expedition 16, on October 10, 2007. After her two trips to space, she's NASA's most experienced female astronaut, with more than 376 days in space. And she's going back again in November 2016 as part of Expedition 50/51. At 56, she will be the oldest woman to travel in space.
She did more than try. She studied biology and chemistry at Iowa Wesleyan College. Her advisor there tried to talk her into attending medical school. When she explained that she really wanted to be an astronaut, her advisor couldn't dissuade her, and only suggested she still visit with physicist James Van Allen who'd worked with the space program and was now a professor at the University of Iowa, with the thought that even if he was able to talk her out of it she could still visit the medical college there while visiting. And he did try to by telling her he believed humans would be replaced by robots when it came to space exploration.
Undaunted, Peggy moved to Houston where she earned her PhD in biochemistry at Rice University, and then worked at Johnson Space Center in a number of positions, but most notably as a biomedical researcher, and then as the project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir Program. All the while she continued to apply to NASA for the astronaut program. It took her ten years, but in April 1996 her dreams of becoming an astronaut candidate came true. She was selected as part of the group that would begin two years of grueling training and evaluation in August 1996. Once she completed that, she began a period of serving on a variety of terrestrial tasks and nautical crew missions as she waited to learn whether she would be sent into space.
She was finally able to realize her dream of space exploration in 2002, when she spent six months at the ISS as part of Expedition 5. What was it like to be in space after working so hard? "What amazed me the first time in space is, 'Oh my gosh, so much color and texture.' I don't know if it has to do with the clarity because there are no particulates in the air, but you see so much."
As part of that mission, she got to spend over 4 hours on a space walk. "Outside on a spacewalk takes it up another notch. You are traveling 17,500 miles an hour across the planet. You are looking down with views going past you. It's like being a bird maybe, the perspective of flying over the Earth."
Since 2008 Peggy has continued working with NASA. She was the first woman as well as the first non-pilot to serve as Chief Astronaut, the highest ranking position for astronauts at NASA. In 2012, at the age when other people are thinking about retirement, Peggy was put back on active flight status.
She's not done with space yet. In November 2016, she will be back in space again, this time as part of Expedition 50/51. Because she's a badass. Seriously.
You can follow her on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, and check out several of her NASA journal entries here, here, and here. And below you can watch her video showing how astronauts suit up for spacewalks.
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