Astronaut to become oldest woman to travel in space

Peggy Whitson heads to the International Space Station this week at age 56.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is on the verge of becoming the oldest woman to travel in space.

Whitson will be 56 when she rockets off the planet Thursday. She’ll celebrate her 57th birthday in February on the International Space Station.

That’s a far cry from John Glenn’s space shuttle flight at age 77, and it’s a few years shy of the male runners-up over the years. But it’s enough to beat Barbara Morgan’s record as the world’s oldest spacewoman. Morgan was selected for NASA’s teacher-in-space program in 1985 but didn’t get a chance to fly until 2007, when she was 55.

This will be the third space station mission for Whitson, a biochemist, and her second stint as commander. She’ll launch from Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, with two younger men, one Russian and the other French.

“I love working at NASA, but the part that has been the most satisfying on a day-to-day basis, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute, has been working onboard the space station,” Whitson told reporters over the summer.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m cleaning the filters. I feel like I’m helping personally push forward exploration . . . that’s the why I want to go again.”

Whitson already has spent 377 days in space and has performed multiple spacewalks. Her upcoming six-month mission should push her beyond 534 days in space, the U.S. record set in September by 58-year-old astronaut Jeffrey Williams.

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