Ringgold County Native to Become First Female Commander of Private Space Mission

(Radio Iowa) Iowa native and former astronaut Peggy Whitson will come out of retirement and return to weightlessness next month as the first female commander of a private space mission. Whitson, who grew up on a farm near Beaconsfield (Ringgold County), will lead a four-member crew on a ten-day mission to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX capsule. Already a veteran of three trips to orbit, Whitson says she and her crew have spent months training for the mission at various locations.

“We’ve trained at NASA, SpaceX,” Whitson says. “We’ve also trained with the European Space Agency, and the Japanese Space Agency. We’ve done centrifuge training, zero-g flights, outdoor and confined environment training for team building. So, I really feel that prepared us very well.” Axiom 2 is slated to launch from the Kennedy Space Center on May 8th aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Whitson says the crew plans more than 20 different experiments aboard the space station, including those related to science, outreach and commercial activities.

“Everything from tumor organoids — which are going to help us predict and prevent cancers with this knowledge we can gain from doing these studies in microgravity,” she says, “all the way to the technology demonstrations that we hope to build and use as part of Axiom’s station in the future.” Axiom plans to launch the first module of its commercial space station in 2025. Whitson, who’s 63, retired from the NASA astronaut corps in 2018. She says she’s particularly intrigued by one of the experiments.

“One of the investigations I’m most interested in is an in-space manufacturing investigation,” Whitson says, “looking at how microgravity affects nanoparticle assembly of potential development of cartilage. I don’t know about everybody in the audience, but my knees could use a little bit of that extra matrix.” Whitson holds the record among American astronauts and women for the number of days in space at 665. She was the first female commander of the I-S-S and the only woman to serve as its commander twice. In addition, Whitson holds the record for most spacewalks by a woman at ten, and during her last mission, became the oldest woman in space.
(Reporting by Mike Peterson, KMA, Shenandoah)