President Donald Trump's call to space on Monday marked a momentous occasion in the career of NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson.
Trump held a 20-minute videoconference with the astronaut currently aboard the International Space Station to congratulate her on breaking the record for the most cumulative days in space.
As of 1:27 a.m. EDT on April 24, Whitson beat the record previously held by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, who spent 534 days aboard the space station.
"Today is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight," said Trump.
The president expressed his gratitude to Whitson for her achievement on surpassing "such an incredible record."
"On behalf of our nation and frankly on behalf of the world, I'd like to congratulate you. That is really something," added the president.
"It's an honor for me basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make spaceflight possible and who make me setting this record feasible," replied Whitson.
Whitson's Record-Breaking Career
The NASA astronaut is on a record-breaking track. On April 9, Whitson assumed command of the space station for the second time — a first for a female astronaut — and is now acting as leader of Expedition 51.
The first time she took charge of the ISS was in 2008 as commander of Expedition 16, when she became the first woman to ever hold the reins of the space station.
Her impressive career aboard the ISS also includes the record for most spacewalks by a woman.
This is Whitson's third long-duration stay in space. The astronaut will be returning home in September, as her mission was recently extended for an additional three months to ensure the full six-member crew for the upcoming Expedition 52.
"Peggy is a phenomenal role model for young women, and all Americans, who are exploring or participating in STEM education programs and careers," Trump said, according to a NASA news release about the White House video call to space.
Mission To Mars, Accelerated?
During the 20-minute videoconference with Whitson and fellow NASA astronaut Jack Fischer, who arrived aboard the ISS on April 20 for his first extraplanetary mission, Trump approached topics related to life in space and research at the space station.
Perhaps the most interesting subject discussed with the two astronauts is the journey to Mars, particularly the president's remark on expediting NASA's plan to send humans to the red planet.
Trump asked the astronauts about the plan for the mission to Mars, wanting to know when they would "see that happening." Whitson answered by referring to the NASA Transition Authorization Act signed by the president last month, which places the time of the mission "approximately in the 2030s."
"Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term, so we'll have to speed that up a little bit, OK?" said Trump, to which Whitson replied: "We'll do our best."
Whitson mentioned NASA is currently building hardware to test a new heavy launch vehicle that will take humans further from Earth than ever before. The astronaut also called for international cooperation to ensure the success of the scheduled two Mars missions, pointing out the "very expensive endeavor" needs a "planet-wide approach."
Last week, Tech Times reported NASA may be forced to delay its first Mars mission because of technical and financial challenges. The first exploratory mission to the red planet, EM-1, aims to send the unmanned Orion capsule into lunar orbit on November 2018, while the second mission, EM-2, will attempt a crewed landing.
However, for NASA to succeed in this intrepid feat, the program "would require a massive infusion of money," states The Washington Post, adding that "even then, it would be almost impossible to make the 2024 deadline — much less by the end of Trump's first term."
Discussing STEM Education
Joined in the Oval Office by First Daughter Ivanka Trump and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Trump also approached the subject of STEM education in his Earth-to-space chat with Whitson and Fischer.
Ivanka Trump talked about the INSPIRE Women Act and the importance of supporting female professionals to pursue science-oriented careers, saying the Trump administration views this as a "major priority."
To exemplify the significance of STEM education, she pointed to both Whitson and Rubins, who last year achieved the historical feat of becoming the first astronaut to sequence DNA in space.
"As I have said many times before, only by enlisting the full potential of women in our society will we be truly able to make America great again," said Trump.
The president added the purpose of the INSPIRE Women Act, which he signed in February, is to facilitate women's access to STEM education and careers in order to "ensure America continues to benefit from the contributions of trailblazers like Peggy."