A record-breaking astronaut from southwest Iowa has retired from NASA, effective today.
Fifty-eight-year-old Peggy Whitson started her career at the agency in 1986 and was selected to the astronaut corps 10 years later. Whitson, who was born in Mount Ayr and raised on a farm near Beaconsfield, was honored earlier this year at the Iowa Statehouse.
“It’s really a fantastic honor to be back here and to have you guys honor me like this. It’s very special,” Whitson said during remarks on the House floor. “I will tell you that I never forget my Iowa roots.” Iowa legislators, in April, passed a resolution praising Whitson — who spent 665 days in space — a record for a U.S. astronaut.
“Everyone’s always asking what made me successful and I would have to say that learning the work ethic of a farmer was key to that,” Whitson said. “My parents – the hardest-working people I know and being from Iowa has been a fantastic experience for me and one I’m very proud of.” In an interview with Radio Iowa from the space station in December of 2016, Whitson talked about Christmas in zero gravity. While gazing down at the oceans, clouds and continents rushing past, Whitson said it brought new meaning to the phrase Peace on Earth.
“I think the perspective of our planet here is very special and it does provide you with the sense that there are no boundaries, that we’re a planet, we are a people,” Whitson said. “It reinforces the fact that we should be together and at peace.” Whitson was the International Space Station’s first science officer and its first woman commander. In addition to the space endurance record, Whiston logged more EVAs — or spacewalks — than any other woman.
The retirement was made public today in an announcement from NASA that included comments from those Whitson worked with.
“Peggy Whitson is a testament to the American spirit,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Her determination, strength of mind, character, and dedication to science, exploration, and discovery are an inspiration to NASA and America. We owe her a great debt for her service and she will be missed. We thank her for her service to our agency and country.”
“It has been the utmost honor to have Peggy Whitson represent our entire NASA Flight Operations team,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson. “She set the highest standards for human spaceflight operations, as well as being an outstanding role model for women and men in America and across the globe. Godspeed, Peg.”
(Radio Iowa’s Matt Kelley and O. Kay Henderson contributed to this story)