White House Calling! Astronaut Peggy Whitson Gets Congrats from President Trump & Ivanka

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson broke the record for cumulative time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA's superstar astronaut and International Space Station commander Peggy Whitson received a special long-distance call from the White House today (April 24) to congratulate her on breaking yet another record in space.

At 1:27 a.m. EDT (0527 GMT) today, Whitson surpassed the record for the most cumulative time in space by a U.S. astronaut, having spent 534 days aboard the space station (and counting). President Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins gathered in the Oval Office this morning for a video conference with Whitson and her crewmate, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer.

During the 20-minute video conference, the group talked about life in space, research at the space station, the journey to Mars, and women and girls in STEM. [In Photos: Record-Breaking NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson


"Today is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight," Trump said, calling Whitson's new flight record "such 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."

Whitson replied by downplaying her achievement, saying, "It's an honor for me basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make spaceflight possible and who make me setting this record feasible."

Whitson is especially excited about human missions to Mars, which she believes could happen sometime in the 2030s, as is outlined in Trump's NASA authorization bill. Trump signed the bill last month. 

President Donald Trump shakes hands with NASA astronaut Kate Rubins in the Oval Office of the White House during a video conference with NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer at the International Space Station on Monday, April 24, 2017. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Ivanka Trump took the opportunity to talk about the INSPIRE Women Act, which seeks to get more female students interested in science and math. "Encouraging women and girls to pursue STEM careers is a major priority for this administration, and today we are sitting with an amazing example of that, Dr. Rubins and Dr. Whitson."

Last summer, Rubins made history when she became the first astronaut to sequence DNA in space. Whitson has made spaceflight history several times over the course of her career, being the first woman to command the space station (and the first to command it twice) and the oldest woman to fly to space. She also holds the record for the most cumulative spacewalking time for a female astronaut.

"Peggy is a phenomenal role model for young women, and all Americans, who are exploring or participating in STEM education programs and careers,"  Trump said in a statement. "As I have said many times before, only by enlisting the full potential of women in our society will we be truly able to make America great again. When I signed the INSPIRE Women Act in February, I did so to ensure more women have access to STEM education and careers, and to ensure America continues to benefit from the contributions of trailblazers like Peggy."

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Hanneke Weitering
Contributing expert

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at FutureFlight.aero and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at Space.com. As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.