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Record-Breaking Astronaut Peggy Whitson retires from NASA

Peggy Whitson floats in the Cupola aboard the International Space Station. The record-setting NASA astronaut retired from the space agency on June 15, 2018.

(NASA)

The United States is the most experienced spaceflyer hangs her wings.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson , who has spent more time in space than any other American, retired from NASA today (15 June), agency officials announced.

“Peggy Whitson is a tribute to the American spirit,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “Her determination, strength of spirit, character and dedication to the science, exploration and discovery are a source of inspiration for NASA and America. We owe her a great debt for her, and she will be missed. We thank her for her service to our agency and the country.” [ Photos: Record-Breaking NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson ]

Iowa native Whitson, 58, a phd in biochemistry from Rice University in 1985. She went to work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston a year later, a National Research Council Resident Research Associate.

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Whitson completed various scientific functions at the agency for the next ten years, including project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir Program and co-chairman of the U.S.-Russian Mission Science working group and was subsequently chosen for the astronaut corps in 1996.

Whitson flew three missions aboard the International Space Station (ISS): Expedition 5 in 2002; Expedition 16 in 2008, during which she became the first female commander of the orbiting lab; and a longer period from November 2016 to September 2017, which spanned Expeditions 50, 51 and 52. Whitson also provided Expedition 51, and was the first woman to lead an ISS mission two times.

During her career, Whitson racked up a total of 665 days in space — more than any other NASA astronaut, and a record for women in the entire world. (A handful of male Soviet /Russian cosmonauts have spent more time in the space, including Gennady Padalkin, which is in the possession of the world mark of 878 days.)

Whitson also has performed spacewalks than any other woman, venturing outside the ISS on 10 different occasions for a record-setting total of 60 hours and 21 minutes. And during her most recent trip to the ISS, Whitson became the oldest female astronaut (57) to reach orbit.

They set a number of records on the floor, and was the first woman and the first non-military person) to serve as head of the NASA astronaut corps. She held this position from 2009 to 2012.

“Peggy is a classmate and a friend, and she will be deeply missed,” Pat Forrester, the current chief of the Astronaut Office, said in the same statement . “Together with her record-setting career, they will leave behind a legacy of her passion for the space.”

You can learn more about Whitson and her extraordinary spaceflight career in her NASA biography .

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+ . Follow us @Spacedotcom , Facebook or Google+ . Originally published on Space.com .

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