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Science & Technology

Astronaut Peggy Whitson Breaks NASA Record For Most Days In Space

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Trump made a noteworthy call this morning. It was not with a foreign leader, and so we wanted to call attention to it as it could have flown under the radar.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Or would that be over the radar?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Station, this is Houston. Are you ready for the event?

CORNISH: President Trump was calling outer space.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Do you hear me?

PEGGY WHITSON: Yes, Sir. We have you loud and clear.

SHAPIRO: That voice at the other end of the line is Dr. Peggy Whitson, commander of the International Space Station. As of today, she has spent more time off of planet Earth than any other American.

CORNISH: Five-hundred-thirty-five days.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WHITSON: It's actually a huge honor to break a record like this, but it's an honor for me backed basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make this space flight possible and who make me setting this record feasible.

CORNISH: Now, she not only holds this record for time spent in space. Dr. Whitson was also the first woman to have commanded the International Space Station. This is her second tour in charge. Her job involves overseeing the research, repair work and overall mission of the space station.

SHAPIRO: Schoolchildren all over the country listened in to her call with the president this morning and heard about what led her to a career in the sciences.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WHITSON: For me, it was actually the Apollo program - was my inspiration. And that was when it became a dream to become an astronaut. But I don't really think it became a goal until I graduated from high school when the first female astronauts were selected. And seeing those role models and with the encouragement of my parents and various mentors, that's what made it possible I think to become an astronaut. And it took me a lot longer to become an astronaut than I ever really wanted it to take, but I do think I'm better at my job because of the journey.

CORNISH: Also on the call, President Trump asked about the status of one of the most exciting space programs of the moment, the manned mission to Mars.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Who's ready to go to Mars up there?

WHITSON: We are absolutely ready to go to Mars. It's going to be a fantastic journey getting there and very exciting times. And all of us would be happy to go. But I want all the young people out there to recognize that the real steps are going to be taken in a few years. And so by studying math, science, engineering, any kind of technology, you're going to have a part in that. And that will be very exciting.

CORNISH: And with that, the president congratulated Dr. Whitson. She had to get back to work.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Whitson's post as commander of the International Space Station ends in September. At that point, she will have spent a total of almost two years in space.

(SOUNDBITE OF FETE SONG, "THE ISLANDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.