Peggy Whitson is an American biochemistry researcher and one of NASA’s most experienced female astronauts after having spent a total of over 365 days in space. She was born Peggy Annette Whitson on February 9, 1960 in Mount Ayr, Iowa, and grew up on a farm outside Beaconsfield. She graduated from Mount Ayr Community High School in 1978 and went on to attend Iowa Wesleyan College, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry in 1981. She then went on to receive her Doctorate in biochemistry from Rice University in 1985 and worked as a Robert A Welch Post-doctoral Fellow until October 1986. After her fellowship at Rice, she began working at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas as a National Research Council Resident Research Associate. From April 1988 until September 1989, Whitson was the Supervisor for the Biochemistry Research Group at KRUG International. From 1989 to 1993, Whitson worked as a Research Biochemist at the Johnson Space Center; and from 1991 through 1997, Whitson worked as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Departments of Internal Medicine, Human Biological Chemistry and Genetics at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. In 1992, she assumed the role of Project Scientist of the Shuttle-Mir Program. From 1992 to 1995, she served as project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir Program and as Deputy Division Chief for the Medical Sciences division at the Johnson Space Center. In 1997, Whitson transferred to Rice University and began a position as Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Maybee Laboratory for Biochemical and Genetic Engineering.
In April 1996, Whitson was selected as an astronaut candidate and began training the following August. After two years of training, she was assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office Operations Planning Branch. She commanded the NEEMO 5 mission aboard the Aquarius underwater laboratory, where she lived and worked for two weeks.
In 2002, Whitson was launched into space for the first time, as a part of the Expedition 5 crew. STS-111 took off on June 5, 2002 and docked with the ISS two days later. Throughout her six-month stay there, she successfully installed the Mobile Base System, the S1 truss segment, and the P1 truss segment. She also performed a 4 hour 25 minute spacewalk and was named the first NASA Science Officer. The entire Expedition 5 crew returned to Earth aboard STS-113 on December 7, 2002. From November 2003 to March 2005, she served as Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office and then served as Chief of the Station Operations Branch, Astronaut Office until November 2005. Whitson next began training as the backup ISS Commander for Expedition 14 and as the ISS Commander for Expedition 16, which launched on the Soyuz TMA-11 on October 10, 2007. During her stay on the ISS, she became the first female commander of the Space Station as well as the female astronaut with the most cumulative EVA time in NASA history. She and fellow crew members returned to Earth on the Soyuz TMA-11 on April 19, 2008 after almost 200 days in space. Whitson has since served as Chief of the Astronaut Office, responsible for preparation activities of International Space Station crews. She is married to Clarence F. Sams, Ph.D.
Image Caption: Portrait astronaut Peggy Whitson. NASA/Wikipedia