Peggy Whitson, who broke Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams record for the most spacewalks by a woman, is poised to set a new record for cumulative time spent in space by a US astronaut, NASA said on Thursday.
NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, signed an agreement to extend Whitson’s stay on the International Space Station by three months.
Rather than returning to Earth with her Expedition 51 crew mates Oleg Novitsky of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of European Space Agency, in June as originally planned, Whitson will remain on the space station and return home with NASA’s Jack Fischer and Roscosmos’ Fyodor Yurchikhin in September.
“Living and working aboard the space station is where I feel like I make the greatest contribution, so I am constantly trying to squeeze every drop out of my time here. Having three more months to squeeze is just what I would wish for,” Whitson said.
The arrangement takes advantage of a Soyuz seat left empty by the Roscosmos decision to temporarily reduce their crew complement to two cosmonauts.
Whitson’s extension will ensure a full complement of six astronauts on board the station and increase the amount of valuable astronaut time available for experiments on board the station.
“Peggy’s skill and experience makes her an incredible asset aboard the space station,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA’s International Space Station Programme Manager.
“By extending the stay of one of NASA’s most veteran astronauts, our research, our technology development, our commercial and our international partner communities will all benefit,” said Shireman.
This is Whitson’s third long-duration stay onboard the space station. She launched on November 17 with 377 days in space already under her belt, and on April 24 will break Jeff Williams’ standing US record of 534 cumulative days in space.
In 2008, Whitson became the first woman to command the space station, and on April 9 will become the first woman to command it twice. In addition, she holds the record for most spacewalks by a female.