Saturday 22 July 2017

'All right, yes, I'm old' - Nasa veteran Peggy Whitson becomes the oldest woman in space

The International Space Station (ISS) crew member Peggy Whitson of the U.S., waves before a space suit check at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
The International Space Station (ISS) crew member Peggy Whitson of the U.S., waves before a space suit check at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Chiara Palazzo

Veteran Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson has become the oldest woman in space after she blasted off for the International Space Station on Friday, adding to her long list of barrier-breaking records.

A Soyuz rocket carrying Whitson, French newcomer Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy lifted off from the Russia-leased launch facility in Kazakhstan at 2:20 am on Friday (20:20 GMT on Thursday) and went into orbit eight minutes later.

Whitson, who will celebrate her 57th birthday in February while on the ISS, has become the oldest woman to fly into space.

That's a far cry from John Glenn's space shuttle flight at age 77, but it is enough to beat the record set by fellow American Barbara Morgan in 2007 at age 55.

During training, a French documentary crew followed Pesquet, focusing on his relative youth and fresh eyes. Whitson said the interest on her, by comparison, was for being "old and experienced."

"All right, yes, I'm old," she said in a Nasa interview. She noted in a recent series of preflight interviews that it gets easier with age, knowing what to expect on a spaceflight and how to prioritise.

This will be the third space station mission for the Iowa-born biochemist, who first went to space in 2002, and her second stint as commander. In 2007 she became the first woman to command the ISS and will set another first when she will take command for the second time.

Whitson has already spent 377 days in space and logged almost 40 hours of spacewalking, which was the most recorded by a woman until 2012, when compatriot Sunita Williams overtook her with over 50 hours of cumulative spacewalk time.

This six-month mission should also push her beyond 534 days in space, the US record set in September by 58-year-old astronaut Jeffrey Williams.

The crew will now travel for two days before docking at the space station, where they will join an American and two Russians already aboard.

The crew will carry out a range of scientific investigations until May 2017.

Whitson said she's had a lucky run with few regrets. But she told reporters last summer: "In terms of goals for NASA before I die, we need to be living on Mars. And I might not live that long, so they better get with it!"

Telegraph.co.uk

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