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Girls & Women

5 Things You Should Know About Badass Astronaut Peggy Whitson

Flickr/NASA Johnson

On Saturday, NASA announced that astronaut Peggy Whitson, who holds a record for the most time spent in space for any woman worldwide and for an American in space of either gender, was coming back down to Earth. 

After safely landing in Kazakhstan late Thursday, the astronaut has now spent 665 days, or nearly two full years, in space, AP reports

Her most recent voyage lasted 288 days, according to NASA — the longest time in orbit during a single spaceflight by a woman. 

“Peggy is an inspiration to us all,” President Trump said in a statement released by NASA, “especially to young women interested in or currently pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”

Read More: Female Astronaut Peggy Whitson Just Shattered a Record Held by Men

Women and girls are still drastically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, with less than one-third of jobs in scientific research and development fields worldwide held by women. 

A lack of women in STEM fields makes the achievement of the fifth Global Goal for Sustainable Development — gender equality — much more difficult. Global Citizen is campaigning for businesses worldwide to include women in their global supply chains. You can take action here.  

Whitson, for her part, has long served as an inspiration for young (and old) women and girls to follow their dreams. 

Read More: 17 Top Female Scientists Who Have Changed the World

So, Global Citizen is bringing you five facts that about Peggy Whitson that will bring you back down to earth, and lift you up: 

1. She holds the record for most time spent in a space station for an American astronaut — of any gender.

peggy-whitson-nasa-flickr-4.jpgImage: Flickr/NASA Johnson

While Whitson comes just short of the world record for most time spent in space, a distinction newly held by fellow cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, she does hold the records for most time spent in space by a women and most time spent in space by an American. At 665 days, she comes in just short of Yurchikhin’s 673 days over the course of five missions. 

2. She’s been called an “American Space Ninja.”

The newest commander of the International Space Station (ISS), Randy Bresnik, had high praise for Whitson, calling her an “American Space Ninja,” per AP.

“We are in your debt for the supreme dedication that you guys have to the human mission of exploration,” Bresnik said to the astronauts.  

3. She became the first woman to command the International Space Station twice.

peggy-whitson-nasa-flickr-3.jpgImage: Flickr/NASA Johnson

In 2008, she became the first woman to command the ISS. In 2016, she became the first woman to “man” the station twice. 

She also holds the record for the most spacewalks by a woman — and has spent more than two full days exploring space by foot

4. Her background is in biochemistry. 

Peggy Whitson only took one biochemistry class as a college undergraduate because at her small Iowa liberal arts college there was only one offering in the field. 

“I just fell in love with it,” she told ASBMB

After earning her PHD from Rice University, Whitson went on to study urine biochemistry, researching the impact of space travel on kidney functions.  

She’s also married to a fellow biochemist, Clarence F. Sams. Go figure! 

5. She made apple pie out of tortillas. 

According to AP, Whitson was not only a space glass-ceiling breaker, but also a space innovator. 

“She even experimented on food up there, trying to add some pizazz to the standard freeze-dried meals,” AP wrote. “Tortillas transformed into apple pies on her watch.”

We’re excited to see what she can do with a few more, non-freeze-dried ingredients.