Space Station Commander Sets New U.S. Record
International Space Station commander Peggy Whitson floats in weightlessness while posing for a photograph during her six-month Expedition 16 mission.
Credit: NASA.

The American commander of the International Space Station (ISS) set a new U.S. spaceflight record Wednesday as her crewmate geared up for an extra-long baseball pitch.

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, the station?s first female commander, surpassed her 374th day in space to take the U.S. title for most cumulative time spent in orbit. By the time she lands on Saturday with flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko and South Korean astronaut So-yeon Yi, she?ll increase her lead to 377 days in orbit over two spaceflights.

?Well this is news to me that I?m about to break that record tomorrow. Of course it makes me happy,? Whitson told reporters Tuesday, adding that she expected to work through the milestone. ?It?ll be a day like any other, though.?

For Whitson?s fellow NASA crewmate Garrett Reisman, today includes an extra orbital highlight. The devoted New York Yankees baseball fan will throw out the first pitch via video during the team?s showdown with the Boston Red Sox tonight.

?Flying in space is really great, but throwing out the first pitch at a Yankees-Red Sox game ?I am really excited about it,? Reisman said Tuesday.

A native of Parsippany, N.J, Reisman launched to the ISS on March 11 aboard NASA?s space shuttle Endeavour to join the Expedition 16 crew. He carried dirt from the Yankees Stadium pitcher?s mound, a Yankees banner and a hat autographed by the team?s principal owner George Steinbrenner to the station as mementos.

?I am really honored to have this opportunity in such a historic season in the House that Ruth Built, and I would like to thank the Yankees for being so supportive of our mission up here in space,? Reisman said in a statement. ?From Earth's orbit, but still deep inside the Yankees Universe, let me say, 'Go Yanks!'"

From his perch aboard the station, 220 miles (354 km) above Earth and flying at 17,500 mph (28,163 kph), Reisman said it was hard to pin down exactly where his pitch — which NASA has billed as the ultimate fastball at 5 miles per second — would pass over home plate.

?The best thing about throwing a pitch up here is that it?s impossible to bounce it,? he said Tuesday.

A space record revealed

Whitson took the U.S. spaceflight record from NASA astronaut Mike Foale, who spent 373 days, 18 hours and 18 minutes in orbit during six career spaceflights that included a tour as ISS commander during the Expedition 8 mission between 2003 and 2004.

As the skipper of the station?s Expedition 16 mission, Whitson is in the 190th day of her flight and spent just over 185 days aboard the space station as an Expedition 5 flight engineer in 2002. She holds the world record for most spacewalking time by a female astronaut and is now 20th on the world-wide list of most experienced spaceflyers.

At the top of the all-time spaceflight list is Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, a six-time spaceflyer who spent just over 803 days in space across two U.S. shuttle flights and four long-duration missions to the Space Station Mir and ISS. Malenchenko, also a Russian cosmonaut, will move up to ninth in the cumulative spaceflight ranks with 515 total days when he lands with Whitson and Yi.

Whitson and Malenchenko are handing over control of the ISS over to Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov — a second-generation Russian cosmonaut — and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko, who arrived at the station with Yi last week.

The two Expedition 16 spaceflyers are due to land with Yi on the Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan at about 4:27 a.m. EDT (0827 GMT) on Saturday while Reisman remains aboard the station to join the Expedition 17 mission.

NASA will broadcast the undocking and landing of Yi and the station's Expedition 16 crew live on NASA TV beginning Friday at 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 April 19 GMT). Click here for SPACE.com's ISS mission updates and NASA TV feed.