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Astronaut Peggy Whitson ’86 to speak at 2024 commencement

Astronaut Peggy Whitson ’86 will speak at Rice's 2024 commencement ceremony. Photo courtesy Rice News

By Riya Misra     2/29/24 8:08am

Peggy Whitson ’86, widely dubbed “America’s most experienced astronaut,” will speak at the 2024 commencement ceremony May 4, President Reggie DesRoches announced in an email to the Rice community Feb. 29.

A native Iowan, Whitson received her doctorate in biochemistry from Rice before working at Johnson Space Center. Her first space flight was in 1992 aboard Expedition 5, according to Whitson’s NASA biography. Since then, she’s spent 675 days in space, performed 10 spacewalks and become the first female commander of the International Space Station. 

“Whitson’s background, career path, accomplishments and work in space exploration are truly impressive and trailblazing,” DesRoches wrote. “Over the past almost four decades, she has held various remarkable leadership positions, often being the first woman to do so.”

Whitson retired from NASA in 2018 after three missions to the ISS, a four-year stint as the most senior astronaut at NASA and more minutes in space than any other American. She’s now the director of human spaceflight for the privately-funded Axiom Space, becoming the first woman to command a private space mission after returning to the ISS aboard Axiom-2 in May 2023.

TIME Magazine named Whitson as one of their 100 most influential people in 2018.

“A very high professional standard — that’s what her name means in the astronaut community,” Thomas Pesquet, European Space Agency astronaut, wrote about Whitson for TIME. “It’s no wonder that [Whitson] has almost single-handedly redefined the role of women in space exploration.”

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