Astronaut Biography: Peggy A. Whitson

Astronaut Biography: Peggy A. Whitson
Astronaut Peggy Whitson, Expedition 16 commander, dons a training version of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) space suit prior to being submerged in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near the Johnson Space Center.
(Image: © NASA.)

NAME: Peggy A. Whitson (Ph.D.)
NASA Astronaut

PERSONAL DATA: Born February 9, 1960 in Mt. Ayr, Iowa. Hometown is Beaconsfield, Iowa. Married to Clarence F. Sams, Ph.D. She enjoys windsurfing, biking, basketball, water skiing.

EDUCATION: Graduated from Mt. Ayr Community High School, Mt. Ayr, Iowa, in 1978; received a bachelor of science degree in biology/chemistry from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1981, and a doctorate in biochemistry from Rice University in 1985.

AWARDS/HONORS: Inducted into Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame (2011); BioHouston Women in Science Award (2011); Houston's 50 Most Influential Women of 2011; Russian Medal of Merit for Space (2011); Texas Women on the Move award recipient (2010); NASA Space Flight Medal (2002, 2008); NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal (2006).

Distinguished Alumni Award, Rice University (2010); First Lady of Iowa Award presented by the Iowa High School Girls' Athletic Union (2010); Iowa Transportation Museum, Hero of Valor (2009); Lion’s Club Mount Ayr Elementary Science Lab dedication, Peggy Whitson Science Center (2008); Distinguished Alumni Award, Iowa Wesleyan College (2002).

Two patents approved (1997, 1998); Group Achievement Award for Shuttle-Mir Program (1996); American Astronautical Society Randolph Lovelace II Award (1995); NASA Tech Brief Award (1995); NASA Space Act Board Award (1995, 1998); NASA Silver Snoopy Award (1995); NASA Exceptional Service Medal (1995, 2003, 2006, 2008).

NASA Space Act Award for Patent Application; NASA Certificate of Commendation (1994); Submission of Patent Disclosure for "Method and Apparatus for the Collection, Storage, and Real Time Analysis of Blood and Other Bodily Fluids (1993); Selected for Space Station Redesign Team (March-June 1993); NASA Sustained Superior Performance Award (1990); Krug International Merit Award (1989).

NASA-JSC National Research Council Resident Research Associate (1986-1988); Robert A. Welch Postdoctoral Fellowship (1985-1986); Robert A. Welch Predoctoral Fellowship (1982-1985), Summa Cum Laude from Iowa Wesleyan College (1981); President's Honor Roll ( 1978-81); Orange van Calhoun Scholarship (1980); State of Iowa Scholar (1979); Academic Excellence Award (1978).

EXPERIENCE: From 1981 to 1985, Whitson conducted her graduate work in biochemistry at Rice University, Houston, Texas, as a Robert A. Welch Predoctoral Fellow. Following completion of her graduate work she continued at Rice University as a Robert A Welch Postdoctoral Fellow until October 1986. Following this position, she began her studies at NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, as a National Research Council Resident Research Associate.

From April 1988 until September 1989, Whitson served as the Supervisor for the Biochemistry Research Group at KRUG International, a medical sciences contractor at NASA-JSC. In 1991-1997, Whitson was also invited to be an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and Department of Human Biological Chemistry and Genetics at University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas. In 1997, Whitson began a position as Adjunct Assistant Professor at Rice University in the Maybee Laboratory for Biochemical and Genetic Engineering.

NASA EXPERIENCE: From 1989 to 1993, Dr. Whitson worked as a Research Biochemist in the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

From 1991 to 1993, she served as Technical Monitor of the Biochemistry Research Laboratories in the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch.  From 1991 to 1992, she was the Payload Element Developer for the Bone Cell Research Experiment (E10) aboard SL-J (STS-47) and was a member of the U.S.-USSR Joint Working Group in Space Medicine and Biology.  In 1992, she was named the Project Scientist of the Shuttle-Mir Program (STS-60, STS‑63, STS-71, Mir 18, Mir 19) and served in this capacity until the conclusion of the Phase 1A Program in 1995.  From 1993 to 1996, Whitson held the additional responsibilities of the Deputy Division Chief of the Medical Sciences Division at Johnson Space Center.  From 1995 to 1996, she served as Co-Chair of the U.S.-Russian Mission Science Working Group.  In April 1996, she was selected as an Astronaut Candidate and started training in August 1996.  Upon completing two years of training and evaluation, she was assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office Operations Planning Branch and served as the lead for the Crew Test Support Team in Russia from 1998 to 1999.  From November 2003 to March 2005, she served as Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office.  Also in 2003, she served as commander of the fifth NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission.

SPACE FLIGHT EXPERIENCE: Expedition 5 (June 5 through December 7, 2002).  The Expedition 5 crew launched on June 5, 2002, aboard STS-111 and docked with the International Space Station on June 7, 2002.  During her six-month stay aboard the space station, Dr. Whitson installed the Mobile Base System, the S1 truss segment and the P1 truss segment, using the Space Station Remote Manipulator System; performed a four hour and 25-minute Orlan spacewalk to install micrometeoroid shielding on the Zvezda Service Module and activated and checked out the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox, a facility class payload rack.  She was named the first NASA Science Officer during her stay, and she conducted 21 investigations in human life sciences and microgravity sciences as well as commercial payloads.  The Expedition 5 crew (one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts) returned to Earth aboard STS-113 on December 7, 2002.  Completing her first flight, Dr. Whitson logged 184 days, 22 hours and 14 minutes in space.

Last Updated: March 2017

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at community@space.com.