Iowa women of all ages and backgrounds are gathered in West Des Moines for the day-long Women’s Conference, hosted by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and his wife, Barbara. Iowa-born astronaut Peggy Whitson, who spent six months aboard the International Space Station in 2002, is on the list of speakers. Whitson, a native of Beaconsfield, discusses the message she’ll deliver. Whitson will talk about the history of women in aviation and in space and will also relate some of her experiences pursuing her dreams with NASA, in an effort to inspire especially younger Iowa women. Whitson went to school in Mount Ayr and graduated from Iowa Wesleyan College. While the shuttle fleet is grounded following the shuttle Columbia disaster last year, Whitson says NASA is still building for the future as two astronauts are now aboard the still-incomplete space station.Whitson says she’s looking forward to the shuttles getting back into orbit next spring and hopes to return to orbit herself someday. She says she’s very encouraged civilians are trying to get into the act with the recent launch of Space Ship One, a privately-built and privately-funded spacecraft that reached orbit for a few minutes in June, before returning to Earth as part of the X-Prize competition. She says “The more people that get exposed to being in zero gravity, the more excitement we’ll have for our space program, so I’m very supportive.” The conference runs until 4 P.M. at the Hy-Vee Conference Center in West Des Moines.