Astronaut Breaks Space Record

Peggy Whitson has just passed the U.S. record for the most days in space.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson became the longest serving American in space on Monday, NASA reported, after she passed astronaut Jeff Williams' record of 534 days.

Whitson has spent several months on board the International Space Station, where she is due to depart for Earth in September. At the time nearly 57, Whitson also became the oldest woman to blast off into space when she left for the station in November.

Whitson received a congratulatory call from President Donald Trump Monday.

"This is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight," Trump told her via a video link from the White House. "You have broken the record for the most total time spent in space by an American astronaut. That's an incredible record to break."

Flying into space since 2002, the veteran astronaut Whitson is also repeating her record as the first woman to command the International Space Station.

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka spent 879 days in space for the international space record. (Learn about an astronaut's final mission.)

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 was 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. (Also see "How Do Women Deal With Having a Period … in Space?")

The three-person crew joined another American and two Russians already on board. The mission is scheduled to finish in May, after completing a range of scientific investigations and daily tasks while orbiting the planet.

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 for her historic flight. "All #smiles today during our crew press conference in Baikonur, Kazakhstan."

"My mother was a teacher who loved space & my father was an engineer," Whitson also tweeted. "I ended up combining both." (See early photos of spaceflight.)

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

A previous version of this story was published on November 18, 2016.

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