Oldest Woman in Space Set to Break U.S. Astronaut Record

American Peggy Whitson heads for the International Space Station from Kazakhstan on a trip that is set to smash more records.

Just days after a Chicago Cub became the oldest major league player to homer in a game 7 of a World Series at 39, another American trailblazer set a similar record: astronaut Peggy Whitson, soon to be 57, just became the oldest woman to blast off into space.

Flying into space since 2002, the veteran astronaut Whitson will repeat her record as the first woman to command the International Space Station. On this trip she is set to surpass the record for any American—male or female—for time in space, eclipsing the previous record of 534 days held by Jeff Williams.

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka spent 879 days in space for the international record.

The crew waves goodbye before boarding their craft.
PHOTOGRPAH BY BILL INGALLS, NASA

Whitson began her latest historic journey toward the stars on November 18 at Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, when she lifted off on a Soyuz rocket with cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and French flyer Thomas Pesquet. It's Whitson's third trip to the ISS.

Whitson also holds the woman's record for the longest amount of time spent doing extra vehicular activities, or spacewalks, at more than 39 hours.

The three-person crew is expected to dock with the space station on November 19, where they will join another American and two Russians already on board. The mission is scheduled to return to Earth in May, after completing a range of scientific investigations and daily tasks while orbiting the planet.

The team lifts off in a Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft from Kazakhstan on November 18.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BILL INGALLS, NASA

Born in Iowa and raised on a farm (like the fictional James T. Kirk from Star Trek), Whitson earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Rice University in Houston. She has worked for NASA in the areas of medical and biological research and has served as a professor at several universities in Texas. Whitson became an astronaut candidate in 1996.

"We are ready for our launch tomorrow!" Whitson tweeted before suiting up this week. "All #smiles today during our crew press conference in Baikonur, Kazakhstan."

A long-exposure photograph shows the Soyuz rocket lifting off.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BILL INGALLS, NASA

"My mother was a teacher who loved space & my father was an engineer," Whitson also tweeted. "I ended up combining both." 

Before liftoff, Whitson tweeted that she was inspired by the dramatic photo of this week's supermoon rising above her rocket as captured by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls.

Whitson lands on a previous flight.

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