CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The world's most experienced spacewoman said Thursday she's thrilled to get an extra three months off the planet.
The commander of the International Space Station, Peggy Whitson, told The Associated Press that five months into her mission, she's not bored yet — "not even close." She misses cooking, though, and a diverse menu. She's afraid there isn't much chocolate left, to celebrate Easter this Sunday, but she's hoping for more when two astronauts fly up next week, bringing the crew to five.
Whitson learned there was a chance her mission would last until September, instead of the originally planned June, the day before she rocketed away late last year. That's because an empty seat will be available on a Russian Soyuz capsule for her return. She'll now spend close to 10 months in space, keeping up with all the science experiments.
She said it was an easy decision to make, once NASA and the Russian Space Agency firmed up the plans earlier this month. She and her husband of almost 28 years, Clarence Sams, a biochemist at Johnson Space Center in Houston, decided on "a flexible plan of happiness," either way.
The biggest challenge of staying up so long, she said, is more mental. While phone and video communication is great, there's nothing like giving family and friends a hug, she told the AP.
Given the space station's relatively limited food choices, she'd like nothing more than an Italian dinner with a great salad. She's enjoyed munching on some Chinese cabbage she's grown up there; she whipped up some tuna salad with horseradish sauce, and served it on the fresh cabbage leaves.
The 57-year-old biochemist — the oldest woman to fly in space — is on the verge of setting a U.S. record for most accumulated time in space.
On April 24, she'll surpass astronaut Jeffrey Williams' 534 days in space. She also has performed eight spacewalks, more than any other woman. A ninth may be in the offing.
During her last spacewalk two weeks ago, a piece of cloth shielding got loose and floated away before it could be installed. Whitson said they had tethered it to the wrong strap and it slid off the end. She said the training equipment on the ground was different, and didn't pose such a problem.
This is her third space mission — and she'd welcome more.
"I would definitely love to go to moon or Mars or some other destination," she said. "Space station's been phenomenal, but I'd like to take some of the next steps. I'm not sure if I'll last that long, but I'll give it my best."
Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press