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US Astronaut Becomes Oldest Woman in Space, Adds to List of Records

Peggy Whitson, 56, was also the first female commander of the International Space Station

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    AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, Pool
    U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson, member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), speaks with her relatives prior the launch of Soyuz MS-3 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016.

    A Soyuz rocket carrying a veteran American astronaut, a French newcomer and a Russian cosmonaut blasted off for the International Space Station on Friday.

    The crew of NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Russia's Oleg Novitskiy and France's Thomas Pesquet lifted off from the Russia-leased launch facility in Kazakhstan at 2:20 a.m. Friday (2020 GMT, 3:20 p.m. EST Thursday) and went into orbit eight minutes later. The crew will now travel for two days before docking at the space station. 

    Whitson, who will celebrate her 57th birthday in February, has now become the oldest woman in space, adding to her long list of barrier-breaking records. This will be the third space station mission for Whitson, an Iowa-born biochemist, and her second stint as commander. Whitson was the first woman to serve as commander of the space station — in 2007, nine years into its lifetime.

    She already has spent 377 days in space and performed multiple spacewalks. This six-month mission should push her beyond 534 days in space, the U.S. record set in September by 58-year-old astronaut Jeffrey Williams. 

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    Whitson, Novitskiy, 45, and the 38-year-old Pesquet, who is making his maiden flight into space, will join an American and two Russians at the orbiting lab. They have worked at the station since October.