Astronaut Peggy Whitson was back in her home state of Iowa this week to deliver an inspirational message at a women’s conference — and to munch a little sweet corn. Whitson is a Beaconsfield native and spent six months of 2002 aboard the International Space Station. Though the shuttle fleet won’t be flying again until next spring, Whitson says she’s confident NASA will move forward with its new mission to again reach the moon and head on to Mars. Whitson says she’s dedicated her life to the effort and “very much would like to see us advancing and exploring again. The International Space Station is a stepping stone for us to going further.” President Bush has asked NASA to develop a new space vehicle to replace the shuttle, building a permanent base on the moon and then sending a new generation of explorers to Mars. Whitson says she stands at the ready and hopes to play a role in the next series of assignments that will reach into space. Whitson says it’ll be exciting seeing the development of a new rocket engine and a “whole complex to get us to go there, not only to the moon but then hopefully on to Mars.” She says much work will have to be done on advanced life support systems that would be able to support a crew for long-duration spaceflights with minimal efforts and minimal supplies. Whitson says scientists have found a wealth of the isotope helium-three on the moon, which could revolutionize energy production on earth, if a way can be found to economically mine it and bring it back here. It’s believed that type of helium can be used in nuclear fusion-type reactors to provide plentiful electric power with virtually no radiation.