IW alum, NASA astronaut discusses mission to International Space Station

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News


NASA astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson still is adjusting to being back on Earth after her most recent stint as commander of the International Space Station.

Whitson, a 1981 graduate of Iowa Wesleyan, spent six months at the International Space Station where she served as commander for the second time in her career.

?I?m adapting to being back on Earth, it was a fantastic experience,? she said during a phone interview with The News on Tuesday afternoon. Whitson, who was the first woman to serve as Chief of the Astronaut Corps as well as the first woman commander of the International Space Station currently holds the record for total spacewalks by a woman and most cumulative days in space by any NASA astronaut. But it?s not those record breaking achievements that Whitson is excited about. Instead it?s the work being done on the International Space Station. ?Every day we?re at the space station we?re breaking a record,? she said. ?For over 18 years we have had an American on the space station; I?m really impressed with that.?

As Whitson briefly reminisced about the work she and her crew did on the International Space Station, she paused and chuckled. ?I think it?s interesting that people who will be graduating from high school this year will not have lived without having someone at the space station.?

While at the space station, Whitson and her crew conducted research on the best ways to explore space. They also tested hardware and equipment that will be used on future missions. ?It?s really exciting to be part of that,? she said.

Missions, like the one Whitson just completed, are what keep NASA moving forward. ?It distinguishes that we are important and allows us to expand to the next step,? she said adding that breaking records along the way helps to reinforce the importance of NASA?s work.

Whitson will return to her alma mater in February for the university?s Founders Day Celebration. Besides delivering the keynote address, Whitson also will be presented with a key to the City of Mt. Pleasant.

Whitson said she never imagined she?d receive the key to the city. ?I find it hard to believe,? she said. However, she is excited to visit the campus and catch up with a few familiar faces, namely her mentor Dolores Poulter Wilson, professor of biology at IW.

Whitson said she looks back fondly at her time at IW, not only because of the degrees in biology and chemistry she received from the university, but because of the personal growth she saw during her time in Mt. Pleasant. ?I think the professors there provided me with a lot of individualized attention, guidance and support,? she said. ?That was great for me.?

Whitson said coming from a small hometown and a high school graduating class of 68, it was important to her to go to a small college. But the one-on-one interaction she received at Iowa Wesleyan helped mold her into the woman she is now. ?I was a relatively insecure young person. (At college) I built confidence. That was the most important thing Wesleyan gave me. Even more than my degree, it gave me a knowledge of myself and confidence in myself.?

The Founders Day Celebration, where Whitson will give the keynote address, will be held at 11 a.m. in the University Chapel. The event is open to the public.

?I look forward to seeing all of the people there,? Whitson said of the event. ?I hope maybe my work will inspire young people to live their dreams.?