Peggy Whitson

Women in STEM
Women in STEM
Peggy Whitson

Birth: February 9, 1960

Specialty: Biochemistry, Astronaut

Major Contributions:

First female commander of the ISS

NASA’s most experienced female astronaut

Former Chief Astronaut

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Since 1963, NASA has appointed the Chief of the Astronaut Office, a senior leadership position for a current astronaut to serve as advisor on astronaut training and operations.  In 2009, Peggy Whitson became the first woman to hold that position.

Born in a small town in Iowa on February 9, 1960, Whitson knew she wanted to be an astronaut for most of her life.  When women were first selected as astronauts in 1978, she said, “it became more than just a dream.”

Just three years after earning her doctorate in biochemistry from Rice University she began work at Johnson Space Center including work as a project scientist  for the Shuttle-Mir Program and a deputy division chief for medical sciences at NASA-JSC.  All before being selected as an astronaut candidate in 1996. 

In June of 2002, Whitson left Earth for a six month trip to the International Space Station.  Whitson also commanded the NEEMO 5 mission on the Aquarius underwater laboratory, where she lived and worked underwater for two weeks.

Whitson returned to space in 2007, as part of Expedition 16, and she became the first female commander of the ISS during her time there.  She was also the first NASA astronaut to return to the ISS for a second mission.  During Expedition 16, she completed her fifth spacewalk, bringing her cumulative spacewalk time to 39 hours, 46 minutes. 

In 2009, Whitson was appointed as NASA’s chief astronaut, and was not just the first and only woman to fill the role but also the first non-pilot. She left the position in order to return to active flight duty, and returned to the ISS in 2016 spending almost a year aboard the station performing multiple EVA tasks and logging the longest amount of time spent in space by a NASA astronaut. When returning to Earth in 2017 she had spent 665 days in space over her career – the most of any woman ever. Retiring from NASA in 2018 she did not retire from being a rockstar astronaut. In 2023 she was back at the ISS this time as commander of the Axiom 2 crew, spending 8 more days in space conducting experiments and outreach activities.

Written by Mary Ratliff


Wikipedia: Chief of the Astronaut Office

Wikipedia: Peggy Whitson

Space Station Astronauts Prepare for Crew Swap

NASA Bios: Peggy Whitson

Age is no barrier for astronaut Peggy Whitson

Peggy Whitson Steps Down as NASA Astronaut Chief


See Also:

Life on a Space Station: Q&A With NASA’s Chief Astronaut Peggy Whitson

Astronaut Peggy Whitson (Tumblr)

Challenges of Spacewalking – Peggy Whitson (YouTube)

Connections to Science: Meet Dr. Peggy Whitson (Iowa Public Television, YouTube)

Peggy Whitson: A Heroine of Science and Technology