Peggy Whitson, First Female Commander of the International Space Station
NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson is breaking records (and ceilings) for women in space. Watch as Peggy shares her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, her many rejections from NASA, the persistence that led her to the International Space Station, and what it feels like to break record after record for both men and women in space.
- I was hanging in my sleeping bag on the wall of my sleep station, and I had gotten on the computer and printed off a couple of things that I needed for the day and floated through the lab, and I'm like I live in space. It was like this is my place of work. This is phenomenal! I was nine years old when the first guys walked on the moon and our folks put us to bed relatively early, but woke us back up so that we could watch that but I thought wow, cool job. I had a great mom who encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. I said something about being an airline pilot and my sister said you can't be an airline pilot, you can only be the flight attendant. My mom said no, that's not true. You can be whatever you want. It wasn't until I graduated high school in 1978 when they selected the first female astronauts that I think becoming an astronaut really became a goal of mine. Of course Sally Ride was influential in developing my image of what a female astronaut was. It became much more motivating to see that there were women there, that women could do this job. I didn't tell a lot of people that that's what I wanted to do because I thought you know they'd think I was just dreaming something that's not even possible. Bob Cabana who was chief of the astronaut office at the time called me, and so I was expecting a rejection and he's trying to make small talk with me and I'm like I don't have time for this, just tell me I didn't make it. But he's like would you like to come and work for me? And I went yes!
- [Narrator] Three new residents headed for the International Space Station. Commander Valery Korzun and flight engineers Peggy Whitson and Sergei Chekov.
- As a woman doing space walks is more challenging mostly because the suits are sized bigger than the average female, and yes it is risky. You're going 17,500 miles an hour around the Earth. Some people have a sense that they're actually falling off of the station. I never had that sensation. I opened the hatch and I was just like wow! I was going out there so fast. It was so beautiful, so incredible. I was commander of the station and then the second female shuttle commander actually arrived to the station, Pam Melroy, so we had the first two female commanders on orbit at the same time. One of the Russian bosses said it was because there were two women on board, and that was in spite of the fact that the previous crew, which was all male, had had the same problem. I've been on three selection boards now. We don't have enough applicants in the female categories. That's why one of the big pushes for NASA is this STEM education primarily focused on young girls because we want more women to understand that yes, you can do these jobs too. You just have to get the right education and training so that you can apply and make it happen.
- I'm going to turn command of the International Space Station over to Dr. Peggy Whitson. She now becomes the first two-time female commander of the International Space Station.
- I've had great jobs at NASA, but the most satisfying job I've ever had is being a member of a crew on board the space station. Every day, every task I felt like I was contributing to space exploration very directly and it's one of the great wonders.