You are here

Peggy A. Whitson, PhD

2018 Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Honoree: Peggy A. Whitson, PhD

“Peggy is a record breaker. Over the course of her career, she has spent 665 days in space: more time than any other woman in the world, and more time than any American in space, man or woman. She has taken ten spacewalks, holding the record for spacewalks taken by a woman. No longer must young women and girls wonder if there is a place for them in STEM fields or professions like that of an astronaut. Peggy is living proof that women can have brilliant success in whatever profession they choose.”

-- Written by Governor Kimberly K. Reynolds, in a letter of support

Peggy A. Whitson, PhD photo

Peggy A. Whitson (Ph.D.) was born February 9, 1960 in Mt. Ayr, Iowa and on the family farm near Beaconsfield. She graduated from Mt. Ayr Community High School in 1978 and then went on to receive a Bachelor of Science in Biology/Chemistry from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1981 and a Doctorate in Biochemistry from Rice University in 1985. Following her work at Rice University, she began her scientific career at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston, Texas, as a National Research Council Resident Research Associate. From there, she went on to serve as the Supervisor for the Biochemistry Research Group at KRUG International, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and Department of Human Biological Chemistry and Genetics at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, Adjunct Assistant Professor at Rice University in the Maybee Laboratory for Biochemical and Genetic Engineering, Research Biochemist in the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Technical Monitor of the Biochemistry Research Laboratories in the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch, and Deputy Division Chief of the Medical Sciences Division at Johnson Space Center.

In April 1996, she was selected as an Astronaut Candidate and started training in August 1996. Upon completing two years of training and evaluation, she was assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office Operations Planning Branch and served as the lead for the Crew Test Support Team in Russia from 1998 to 1999.

In 2002, with Dr. Whitson aboard, the Expedition 5 crew launched aboard the Shuttle STS 111 and docked with the International Space Station. She was named the first NASA Science Officer during her stay and conducted 21 investigations in human life sciences and microgravity sciences as well as commercial payloads. She performed 1 spacewalk in the Russian Orlon space suit.  Completing her first flight, Dr. Whitson logged 184 days in space.

During Whitson’s second six-month tour of duty aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 16, she served as the first female Commander in 2007-2008.  Whitson has also performed a five space walks, with a career total of 39 hours and 46 minutes.

From October 2009 to July 2012, Whitson served as Chief of the Astronaut Corps and was responsible for the mission preparation activities and on-orbit support of all International Space Station crews and their support personnel. She was also responsible for organizing the crew interface support for future heavy launch and commercially-provided transport vehicles. Whitson was the first female, nonmilitary Chief of the Astronaut Office.

Whitson’s third long duration mission launched on November 17, 2016. Originally planned for 6 months in duration, the mission was extended, and she returned to Earth on September 3, 2017.  During the mission she contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science, welcomed several cargo spacecraft delivering tons of supplies and research experiments, and conducted an additional four spacewalks for maintenance and upgrades to the station. Whitson participated in four spacewalks, bringing her career total to ten, more than any other woman in the world. With a total of 665 days in space, Whitson holds the U.S. record (male and female), placing eighth on the all-time space endurance list.

Dr. Whitson is married to Clarence F. Sams, Ph.D.

An interview with Peggy A. Whitson, PhD:

Video of the 2018 Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Honorees: