Symbolic as it is, the gift of a ‘kamcha’ — a traditional Kazakh riding whip — to Peggy Whitson, the first woman astronaut to command the International Space Station (ISS), is quite a cracking statement. The idea of the gift, thought up by Russian officials in the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, was to signal to Whitson the best way to keep her male crew in line. While she joked that she hopes she won’t have to use it, maybe once she’s over the moon after blast-off, she might just want to crack the whip and show ’em who’s boss.
This will be the 47-year-old biochemist’s second trip to the ISS and reports hail it as a bit of a home-coming. Accompanying her are Malaysian Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, the country’s first astronaut and Russian Yuri Malenchenko. Shukor, incidentally, is a part-time model and, last heard, planned to carry biryani into space. He also received special training for maintaining the prayer position when up there.
As for the memorabilia that goes into space, it’ll be the first time that a whip, metal-studded leather handle and all, will find its way into space. Whether Whitson chooses to wield it or not, maybe to get an extra portion of biryani, the fact is that when the lady is in orbit, her wish will have to be their command.