After 9 ½ months in orbit, what’s on Peggy Whitson’s wish list? Will the record-setting NASA astronaut miss anything about space life?
Whitson was scheduled to answer reporters’ question during her final news conference from space this week, days before her scheduled return to Earth. But it was called off because of Harvey: Houston is home to Johnson Space Center and Mission Control for the International Space Station
Instead, NASA relayed questions from The Associated Press to Whitson by email.
The questions and answers have been edited and condensed.
Q: What are your thoughts as you get ready to close out your mission? Has the flight hurried by or seemed to have dragged?
A: Actually, most of the flight has gone by very quickly. In fact, I would say that it didn’t feel any longer than my previous two flights of 6 months in duration. I would say the slowest time has been the last week or so. I think it has to do with switching in your mind where you want/need to be. Once the switch is thrown to go home, time seems to move a lot slower.
Q: You will be arriving back to a storm-crippled Houston. How has the catastrophe there affected your mindset? How did you and your husband’s home fare?
A: Our home is fine, but so many friends and co-workers have been impacted. For example, in order to keep Mission Control running, the team (three shifts of a skeleton support crew) were sleeping on cots in the backup Mission Control rooms. Their sacrifices for the station and keeping things running up here are amazing. Any trepidations I might have about returning in the aftermath of a hurricane are entirely eclipsed by the all those folks keeping our mission going and physically putting themselves out there to help folks who were less fortunate than us.
Q: Besides family and friends, what have you missed most about Earth?
A: Flush toilets. Trust me, you don’t want to know the details. Pizza has been on my mind for a month or two, since (U.S. astronaut) Jack (Fischer) told the ground we weren’t a pizza delivery place when he was joking with them.
Q: What will you miss most about space?
A: Things I will miss: I know that I will hugely miss the freedom of floating and moving with the lightest of touch, especially those first few days after my return when gravity will especially SUCK. I will miss seeing the enchantingly peaceful limb of our Earth from this vantage point. Until the end of my days, my eyes will search the horizon to see that curve.
I will miss seeing and working within this awe-inspiring creation that we, as a people, have constructed here in space, travelling at 17,500 mph. I still can’t believe the incredible level of detail that was required to imagine this place, let alone to build it! I will also miss the ability to “go for a walk” in a spaceship built for one.
And mostly, I will miss that incredible sense of satisfaction, gratitude and pride that comes from working with the NASA team from on orbit.
Q: You broke quite a few records on this mission. What are your thoughts about being a space superwoman?
A: I have noted in more than a few interviews that I am not overly comfortable with the praise about the records. I honestly do think that it is critical that we are continuously breaking records, because that represents us moving forward in exploration. I am working on paying forward some of the advice and mentoring that I received on my journey, in hopes that one day those young people will do the same, and look back on a life in which they leapt at the opportunities and broke their own records.
Q: How much longer could you envision yourself staying up there, if you had to? An entire year? Longer?
A: Yes, I do think I could have flown in space longer. The resistive exercise device is much better than the previous versions, and does a fantastic job of keeping us fit from a bone and muscle perspective.
Q: Is this your last spaceflight, in all likelihood? What’s next for you?
A: I am not sure what the future holds for me personally, but I envision myself continuing to work on spaceflight programs. My desire to contribute to the spaceflight team as we move forward in our exploration of space has only increased over the years.