NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson breaks record for the most time in space

Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson has broken the record for the most cumulative days in space of any American astronaut.

On Monday the 57-year-old broke the previous record held by Jeff Williams of 534 days in space.

President Donald Trump hosted a video conference call with astronauts Dr Whitson and Jack Fischer, who are currently orbiting the Earth aboard the International Space Station.

Mr Trump was joined in the Oval Office by his daughter, Ivanka, and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins.

President Trump congratulated Peggy Whitson and NASA on the incredible accomplishment saying “what an amazing thing you’ve done".

"Everybody here’s incredibly proud of the record you just broke and I hope every American watching today finds in your example a reason to love space and think about space because many great things are going to come out,” said Mr Trump.

Mr Trump also thanked Dr Whitson for her and Mr Fischer's service to the U.S. in the cause of exploration and discovery.

The group went on to have a 20-minute conversation about life aboard the International Space Station, NASA’s mission, and the importance of Science, Technology,Engineering, and Math (STEM) education.

On-board the ISS - Peggy Whitson who grew up in a small town with a population of 20 people. Credit: NASA

Speaking to the Oval Office, Dr Whitson said “it’s actually a huge honour to break a record like this, but it's an honour too for me basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make the space flight possible and make me setting this record feasible.”

The conversation took a slightly comedic, primitive turn when Dr Whitson revealed that “water is such a precious resource up here that we also are cleaning up our urine and making it drinkable, and it’s really not bad as it sounds.”

President Trump simply replied with “Well that’s good, I’m glad to hear that, better you than me.”

In addition to signing the NASA Transition Authorization Act, during the conference, Ivanka Trump said that President Trump had also recently signed the INSPIRE Women Act, which ensures that NASA will continue recruiting women for important STEM-related jobs in aerospace.

According to NASA, Whitson is not only the first woman to command the Space Station, but the first woman to command it twice. In addition, she holds the record for most spacewalks by a female.

Whitson is currently on her third long-duration stay on-board the Space Station. She launched on November 17 2016 with 377 days in space already under her belt, and on Monday officially breaks Jeff Williams’ standing United States record of 534 cumulative days in space.

Speaking to ITV News about his now surpassed record, astronaut Jeff Williams said:

“Well I think it's great for Peggy and it's great for the program. When I exceeded the time that Scott Kelly [who previously held the record for total duration] it wasn’t that big of a deal to me.

"I looked at it as more of a testimony to the greater international team that has accomplished this thing we call the International Space Station; the team that also is sustaining it over many years with a very promising future.

"Those of us that have been there and go back again, you know, you accumulate time; I just happened to be in the place over the last few months that put me in that number and now Peggy's [exceeded it].

"It's great for Peggy personally, she and I are classmates - we both were in the '96 class of astronauts. We both have dedicated the vast majority of our career here at NASA to the ISS and I think she would probably agree with me that it's more of a testimony to the team that has made this accomplishment and less so to us as individuals.”

Williams will also be speaking to Whitson on Monday and says his primary goal will be to congratulate her:

“It's a call that I look forward to be able to make, to not only congratulate her on exceeding my time in space, but actually with the promise to far exceed it.”

Peggy grew up on a farm in rural Iowa, in a town with a population of no more than 20 people at the time, and to be living amongst the stars is a reality that her mother finds “unbelievable”. Peggy’s mother, Beth Whitson,told ITV News:

“We’re very proud of what she has done and when we sit here and watch it’s just unbelievable we live in Beaconsfield […] so that idea that she has got so far and done so many things is hard to believe.”

And what does Peggy’s mother think her daughter makes of her accomplishment?

“I’m sure she’s pleased about it, but she doesn’t make a big deal about it, because they’re up there and doing what they are to further their research in the universe.”

U.S. astronauts Peggy Whitson, above, and Shane Kimbrough work on the ISS. Credit: NASA via AP

And for budding astronauts, what was Peggy’s secret ingredient to conjure her from country bumpkin to a space superwoman? Beth Whitson puts it down to her daughter’s work ethic, “how hard she can work, she can get more work done, as you can imagine.”

Former record holder, Jeff Williams has been in frequent contact with Peggy throughout her mission and says she’s having a great time up there, only more excited by the extension of her space mission:

“She’s been a natural up there, she's enjoyed it. She's a scientist by background and she loves the scientific work that’s going on in the Space Station. So I think it's a fulfilment of, like many of us, a lifelong objection that she's carried.”

But surely all this time up in space, miles away from planet Earth must be tinged with elements of boredom now and again? According to Jeff Williams, absolutely not!

“Boredom was never a word in my vocabulary to characterise my time on the Space Station. Now certainly being up there for months at a time, you can some days feel isolated and you miss your family and friends and what not," said Williams.

"You miss some of the details also of life on earth. But you don't get bored up there, there's an endless variety of activities that we're assigned to do and of course everybody goes up there with personal objectives to do some things in your free time. You never get tired of the view out the window,” he added.

President Trump joined by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, left, and his daughter Ivanka Trump, speaks with ISS Commander Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer. Credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

What about binging on the latest Netflix series? Walks in the park? Snapchatting? Hot baths? Stuffing your face on Christmas day? Jeff Williams certainly paints an interesting perspective on these earthly duties that we, mere mortals, do so monotonously day-to-day:

“My philosophy was I wasn't going to spend a lot of time on the Space Station doing things that I could do on earth.”

If Jeff Williams’ philosophy, or astro-sophy, is anything to go by, Peggy Whitson’s call with President Trump will have been yet another mundane earthly duty to interrupt stimulating scientific experiments, space walks and galactic window shopping.