Peggy Whitson has decided to extend her stay at the International Space Station by three months. This way, she is breaking another record as the U.S astronaut who has spent more cumulative time in space.

Peggy is NASA’s first female astronaut to have spent so much time in space. In 2008, she became the first woman to command the ISS.  From today on, Whitson will take the command again replacing NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, who is about to depart the station.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson
Astronaut Peggy Whitson at the ISS. Image credit: NASA.

“This is great news,” Whitson said in a NASA press statement. “I love being up here. Living and working aboard the space station is where I feel like I make the greatest contribution, so I am constantly trying to squeeze every drop out of my time here. Having three more months to squeeze is just what I would wish for,” she added.

Peggy Whitson has NASA’s record for more spacewalks by a woman

Today Peggy Whitson is becoming the first woman ever to command the ISS in two opportunities. She is taking the control just as three space fliers return to Earth.

Whitson became the first woman to command the International Space Station during Expedition 16 in 2008, and she will assume the position again today at 10:40 a.m. EDT (1440 GMT) during a change-of-command ceremony. The ceremony will be available on NASA TV.

Whitson currently holds the record for the most spacewalks by a woman in NASA. She set the record last month. In between, another woman, astronaut Sunita Williams, assumed the position of commander of the ISS.

Whitson is breaking NASA’s 534 days in orbit record on April 24

One of the motivations behind Whitson’s decision to stay three more months in space is because she wants to break another NASA record. The petition was accepted by NASA in agreement with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos. She was to return to Earth when Expedition 51 ends in June, but given the fact that Roscosmos is reducing its crew to two cosmonauts for Expedition 52, they let Whitson stay on board to secure that the space station will house a full crew of 6 astronauts until September 2017.

Currently, 534 days is the longest time a NASA’s astronaut has managed to stay in orbit. Astronaut Jeffrey Williams set the record last September.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson
“I’ll be working aboard the Space Station longer than expected! This is where I make the greatest contribution, so I’m looking forward to it,” said Whitson on Twitter. Image credit: @AstroPeggy.

Whitson will break William’s record specifically on April 24. This would be Whitson’s third longest stay in the space station. She is also breaking her own record of 377 days in space. She was last launched to space in November. She might be coming back home on a Soyuz vehicle in September.

She will become the astronaut with the longest cumulative time in space worldwide. There are thirteen Russians who have spent more time in space. Currently, the world record is held by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who has spent 879 days in space during his career.

Whitson will be in the ISS to receive two incoming crewmembers

Tomorrow, April 10, at 12:15 a.m., astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko will leave the space station crew to come back to Earth in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. At 4 a.m., the Russian spacecraft will undock from the station at 6:27 a.m. It should be performing a de-orbit burn to land in Kazakhstan at 7:20 a.m finally.

A video showing the arrival of the three astronauts will be available on NASA TV. They are returning from a 173-day extended stay on board of the ISS. During this mission, Kimbrough performed three spacewalks to change the ISS’s batteries and to repair the outside of the international space station. He has performed six spacewalks during his career.

These astronauts are leaving the ISS in charge of Whitson and two other crewmembers, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy. Whitson will be there to receive two other members – Jack Fischer (NASA) and Fyodor Yurchikhin (Russian cosmonaut) – who will arrive on April 20. They will leave with Whitson in September.

Some pieces of the ISS are floating somewhere in space

One of the four thermal shields of the ISS is floating away into space. Former commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson had the mission to install the thermal shield, but they lost it. NASA didn’t explain how this happened, but the piece is indeed gone. Space experts say that this piece might be making its way back to Earth, where it eventually will be burned up. However, it might be headed somewhere else.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson
Astronaut Peggy Whitson at the International Space Station. Image credit: @AstroPeggy.

“The duo were also tasked with installing four thermal protection shields on the Tranquility module of the International Space Station (…). During the spacewalk, one of the shields was inadvertently lost.  The loss posed no immediate danger to the astronauts and Kimbrough and Whitson went on to successfully install the remaining shields on the common berthing mechanism port,” Said NASA.

Source: Space