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Meet The NASA Astronaut About To Become The Oldest Woman In Space

She's also the first woman to serve as commander of the International Space Station.

At 56, astronaut Peggy Whitson is quite a bit younger than John Glenn was when ― in 1998 ― he became the oldest human to ever travel in space at age 77. But on Thursday, Whitson will set her own record when she rockets off the planet to become the oldest spacewoman ever.

And it gets even better. Whitson will turn 57 in February while she’s orbiting on the International Space Station, reports the Associated Press. Previously Barbara Morgan held the distinction of oldest woman in space with her 2007 trip at 55.

“I think it gets easier as you get older,” Whitson told the Des Moines Register. “You know what to worry about and what not to worry about. You prioritize your effort. It’s the ‘work smarter, not harder’ that with experience is much easier to do.”

In 2007, Whitson became the first woman to serve as commander of the space station and also was the first — and so far only — woman to head NASA’s male-dominated astronaut corps. No other woman has spent more time in space.

The launch is set for 3:20 p.m. EST Thursday, which is early Friday morning at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

This will be Whitson’s third space station mission. The Iowa-born biochemist will launch alongside two younger men, French and Russian. Once at the space station, they’ll join two other Russians and an American.

In recent months, Whitson has worked hard to shed light on a group she calls the “NASA Village” ― her team of trainers and technicians. She’s even created a Tumblr page to share their stories.

“We are working hard to highlight the stories of those people,” she said in an interview last year. “What we hope is that by telling those stories, we’ll inspire young people to realize there are different types of jobs in spaceflight and exploration.” 

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