NASA's Peggy Whitson takes command of space station



CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 9 (Reuters) - NASA's Peggy Whitson, soon to become the most experienced U.S. astronaut in terms of time spent in space, assumed command of the International Space Station on Sunday as two Russian crew members and an American prepared to fly back to Earth.

For Whitson, 57, it was her second stint in charge of the $100 billion station, a multinational project overseen by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

SEE ALSO: Jeff Bezos is selling $1 billion of Amazon stock to fund his space rocket company
​​​​​​

On April 24, Whitson will have spent more time in space than any other American astronant, surpassing the current U.S. record of 534 days held by NASA's Jeff Williams, 59. She already held records for the most time spent in space by a woman and for the most time spent spacewalking by a woman.

"She will set another record at this moment," the departing U.S. commander, Shane Kimbrough, said during a Sunday change of command ceremony aired on NASA TV. "She becomes the first two-time female commander of the International Space Station."

9 PHOTOS
Peggy Whitson
See Gallery
Peggy Whitson
The International Space Station (ISS) crew member Peggy Whitson of the U.S., waves before a space suit check at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
The International Space Station (ISS) crew member Peggy Whitson of the U.S., walks for space suit check at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
The International Space Station (ISS) crew member, Peggy Whitson of the U.S. speaks prior to the launch of Soyuz MS-3 space ship at Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Dmitri Lovetsky/ Pool
The International Space Station (ISS) crew member Peggy Whitson of the U.S. is pictured before boarding spacecraft at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan 17 November 2016. REUTERS/Kirill Kudryavtsev/ Pool
The International Space Station (ISS) crew members Peggy Whitson of the U.S., Oleg Novitskiy of Russia and Thomas Pesquet of France walk to board the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft for the launch at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan 17 November 2016. REUTERS/Kirill Kudryavtsev/ Pool
The International Space Station (ISS) crew member Peggy Whitson of the U.S. tests a space suit during the pre-launch preparations at Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan 17 November 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Kochetov/ Pool
The International Space Station (ISS) crew members (L-R) Peggy Whitson of the U.S., Oleg Novitskiy of Russia and Thomas Pesquet of France walk from a hotel for a pre-launch preparation at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
Crew members of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 50/51 Thomas Pesquet (L) of France, Peggy Whitson (R) of the U.S. and Oleg Novitsky of Russia pose for a picture as they attend an examination training session in Star City outside Moscow, Russia, October 25, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Kimbrough and Russian crewmates Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko were scheduled to wrap up a 173-day mission on Monday, with a parachute landing in Kazakhstan at 7:21 a.m. EDT (1121 GMT).

Their replacements, NASA's Jack Fischer and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, were due to arrive on April 20 at the station, which is in orbit about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

5 PHOTOS
International Space Station
See Gallery
International Space Station
IN SPACE - OCTOBER 7: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this handout photo provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst takes a photo during his spacewalk, whilst aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on October 7, 2014 in Space. Gerst returned to earth on November 10, 2014 after spending six months on the International Space Station completing an extensive scientific programme, known as the 'Blue Dot' mission (after astronomer Carl Sagan's description of Earth, as seen on a photograph taken by the Voyager probe from six billion kilometres away). (Photo by Alexander Gerst / ESA via Getty Images)
ZHEZKAZGAN, KAZAKHSTAN - MARCH 12: (Alternate crop of #465931716) In this handout provided by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 42 commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Elena Serova of Roscosmos March 12, 2015 near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. NASA astronaut Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Samokutyaev and Serova are returning after nearly six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 41 and 42 crews. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
STAR CITY, RUSSIA - MARCH 5: In this handout from the In this handout from National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA, (L to R) NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) March 5, 2015 in Star City, Russia. The three are preparing for launch to the International Space Station (ISS) in the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 28, 2015. As the one-year crew, Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016. (Photo by /Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
WALLOPS ISLAND, VA - OCTOBER 28: In this handout provided by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard suffers a catastrophic anomaly moments after launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility on October 28, 2014 on Wallops Island, Virginia. William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and Michael Suffredini, NASA's International Space Station Program Manager also participated in the press conference via phone. Cygnus was on its way to rendezvous with the space station. The Antares rocket lifted off to start its third resupply mission to the International Space Station, but suffered a catastrophic anomaly shortly after lift off at 6:22 p.m. EDT. (Photo by Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The U.S. and Russian space agencies last week agreed to extend Whitson's mission by three months to fill in as the new crew's third member.

Russia is reducing its station cadre from three to two members until its new science laboratory is launched next year, the head of Roscosmos said at the U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last week.

Whitson flew to the station in November with Russia's Oleg Novitskiy and France's Thomas Pesquet. The men were scheduled to fly back to Earth without Whitson on June 2.

She was due to return to Earth in September with Fischer and Yurchikhin, having amassed a career U.S. record of more than 665 days in orbit. Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, with 878 days in orbit, is the world's most experienced space flier. (Editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.