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American Woman Breaks NASA Space Orbit Record


In this April 13, 2017, image from video made available by NASA, astronaut Peggy Whitson speaks during an interview aboard the International Space Station.


U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson broke the record Monday for the most total time spent in orbit by an American. Commander Whitson, who is currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS), has been in space a total of 534 days during her career.

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to Whitson by video from the Oval Office.

"Five-hundred and thirty-four days and counting. That's an incredible record to break. And on behalf of our nation, and frankly on behalf of the world, I'd like to congratulate you. That is really something."

The 57-year-old Whitson is the most experienced U.S. woman astronaut. When she returns to earth next September, NASA says she will have spent more than 650 days in space during three stays on the ISS. Speaking from space, she told the president what this day meant to her.

“It’s actually a huge honor to break a record like this. But it’s an honor for me basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make this space flight possible and who make me setting this record feasible.”

She explained to Trump how technology in the ISS allows astronauts to convert their urine to drinking water. She said it is not as bad as it sounds.

Commander Whitson said her dream to be an astronaut came from the Apollo program that sent men to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. It became a goal for her when the first female astronauts joined the program.

Holding records is not new to Whitson. In 2008 she was the first woman to command the space station. This year, she became the first woman to command it twice.

Last month she set the record for most spacewalks by a female. She has spent more than 53 hours outside the space station.

And, from 2009-2012, she was the first female chief of NASA’s astronaut office.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson on a spacewalk in March 2017. She holds the record for most spacewalks by a female and now the most days in orbit by an American.
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson on a spacewalk in March 2017. She holds the record for most spacewalks by a female and now the most days in orbit by an American.

With a doctorate in biochemistry, Whitson has held a number of research-related positions at NASA. During the current mission, Expedition 51, Whitson and the other crew members aboard the ISS are conducting about 250 science experiments.

They include increasing the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment, and growing fresh food in space.

Being able to grow fresh food in space is a necessary part of sending humans to Mars. Last month, President Trump made humans reaching Mars by the 2030s an official goal for the space agency.

Whitson told the president that NASA officials “are excited about the missions to Mars in the 2030s.”

Her fellow U.S. astronaut Jack Fisher arrived at the ISS last week for the first time. He also spoke to the president about nations working together in space.

“It’s amazing, the International Space Station is by far the best example of international cooperation and what we can do when we work together, in the history of humanity. And I am so proud to be a part of it.”

Congress still has to approve the money to fund the president’s program of getting humans to Mars.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English with material from VOA and NASA. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and visit us on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

feasible – adj. possible to do

convert – v. to change (something) into a different form or so that it can be used in a different way

urine – n. waste liquid that collects in the bladder before leaving the body

doctorate – n. the highest degree given by a university

endeavor – n. a serious effort or attempt

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