NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is already set to break the U.S. record for cumulative time in space currently held by Jeff Williams. Now her mission will be extended by three months in the wake of Roscosmos’ decision to temporarily reduce the Soyuz crew complement to two cosmonauts. Instead of returning to Earth with Expedition 51 crewmates Oleg Novitsky of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA in June, she will now return home with Expedition 52 crew members, NASA’s Jack Fischer and Roscosmos’ Fyodor Yurchikhin.
This will maintain the International Space Station at maximum crew capacity and maximize the amount of scientific and maintenance work that can be done on the space station.
Whitson was enthusiastic about the extension of her mission: “This is great news. I love being up here. 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.”
Her current mission is her third long-duration stay on the International Space tation and, on April 9th, she will begin her second increment as the commander of an ISS crew. She also recently set the record for the most spacewalks made by a woman while reconfiguring the station to prepare for the arrival of “commercial crew” spacecraft.
While on the ground, Whitson has served in leadership capacities that included the position of chief of the Astronaut Corps, a position she stepped aside from in 2012 so that she could take on another increment on the space station. NASA officials called Peggy Whitson’s experience valuable to the success of the International Space Station.
“Peggy’s skill and experience makes her an incredible asset aboard the space station,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA’s International Space Station Program 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.”