First Woman Station Commander Arrives for Historic Spaceflight
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson arrived at the International Space Station Friday to begin her tenure as the first woman to command a station mission.
Whitson, Soyuz Commander and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko and Malaysian Spaceflight Participant Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor docked their Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft to the station at 10:50 a.m. EDT. The crew launched on Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Whitson officially will become the station commander after a ceremony Friday, Oct. 19, at approximately 3:15 p.m. EDT. This change of command event will mark the formal handover of the station to Whitson and Malenchenko, just days before the Expedition 15 crew members and Shukor depart.
"I think it's special that I get the opportunity to play that role," Whitson said when asked about being the first woman station commander. "But I think it's also special to have an opportunity to demonstrate how many other women also work at NASA."
Another female astronaut, space shuttle Discovery Commander Pam Melroy, will reach another milestone in late October when she and her crew arrive at the station. It will mark the first time two women have led space missions at the same time.
To familiarize themselves with station systems and procedures, Expedition 16's Whitson and Malenchenko will conduct more than a week of handover activities with Expedition 15 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, Flight Engineer Oleg Kotov and Expedition 15 and 16 Flight Engineer Clayton Anderson. Whitson and two other crew members will perform three spacewalks during Expedition 16 to prepare the station for the activation of the Harmony node. The Expedition 16 spacewalks also will prepare for the relocations of Harmony and Pressurized Mating Adapter-2, a docking port.
This is Whitson's second six-month rotation aboard the orbiting complex. She previously served as a flight engineer on Expedition 5 in 2002, when she became NASA's first station science officer, conducting 21 investigations in human and life sciences. During that mission, she also used the station's robotic arm to help add two truss segments to the station's backbone and performed a spacewalk to install debris shielding.
Whitson was born and raised in Iowa, where at an early age she was inspired by the men who walked on the moon. "I thought 'what a cool job!"
She decided she wanted to fly in space after graduating from high school, which was the same year they picked the first set of female astronauts. Whitson knew she wanted to work for NASA, if not as an astronaut, then as a scientist.
Whitson received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1981 and a doctorate in biochemistry from Rice University in 1985. From 1989 to 1993, Whitson worked as a research biochemist in the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. For the next several years, she held a number of senior positions within NASA until her selection as an astronaut in 1996.
When Whitson returns home in April 2008, she will hold yet another distinction, that of having spent more time in space than any other woman.