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She holds the NASA record for time spent in space. This week she headed back

Astronaut Peggy Whitson, probably thinking about breaking records or being in space.
Bill Ingalls/NASA
NASA via Getty Images
Astronaut Peggy Whitson, probably thinking about breaking records or being in space.

Before this week, Peggy Whitson had spent a cumulative 665 days in space over her career, giving her the NASA record. She's not done yet.

Who is she? Whitson, 63, is a biochemistry researcher, retired NASA astronaut, and colloquially known as "the space ninja."

What's the big deal? Though her NASA days are over, Whitson recently went back to space on a chartered flight as commander. It included Saudi Arabia's first astronauts in decades.

  • The flight, organized by Axiom Space and powered by a SpaceX rocket and capsule, was headed for the International Space Station, and included Rayyanah Barnawi, a stem cell researcher who became the first Saudi woman to go to space, according to the Associated Press.

  • The crew launched this past Sunday, and will spend more than a week at the station before returning with a splashdown off the Florida coast.

  • The ticketed trip, which is estimated to have cost somewhere around $55 million per person, is just one of the forays into space tourism that seem to be the future trend for the super-wealthy.

Want to learn about another inspiring person? Listen to Consider This on Michael J. Fox and his battle against Parkinson's.

What are people saying?

"It was a phenomenal ride," is what Whitson had to say after reaching orbit, according to the AP.

Here are some thoughts she shared in conversation with NPR a few years ago:

On gravity:

Gravity always sucks. It really, really does...

It's a big challenge just re-adapting to feeling heavy again, you know? Even my arm feels heavy. My legs feel heavy.

On readjusting once you're back from space:

I find it very difficult. I always call it the post-flight funk, where I'm just not sure what the objective is now anymore. It's funny, because when you have that daily routine of, "Here's how much I want to try and get done today," it gives you — gives me anyway — a lot of motivation and a lot of direction. And the initial return process feels a little directionless.

And just for fun, here's William Shatner's haunting account of space travel after leaving the planet for a bit with Jeff Bezos's company Blue Origin:

It was the death that I saw in space and the life force that I saw coming from the planet — the blue, the beige and the white, and I realized one was death and the other was life.

What now?

Learn more:

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Manuela López Restrepo
Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.