World news

Record-breaking astronaut tells Trump she's ready to go to Mars

US astronaut Peggy Whitson, member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), gestures from a bus prior the launch of Soyuz MS-3 space ship in November at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. President Donald Trump will speak next week to the commander of the orbiting International Space Station. PICTURE: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP
Marcia Dunn

RECORD-breaking US astronaut Peggy Whitson has discussed a future mission to Mars during a congratulatory call from President Donald Trump – and also hailed recycling systems in space which turn urine into drinking water.

The International Space Station's commander spoke to the US leader as she surpassed the record of 534 days, two hours and 48 minutes to clock the most accumulated time spent in space by an American.

Mr Trump told Ms Whitson during the call: "This is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight."

His daughter Ivanka also offered congratulations to Ms Whitson from the Oval Office.

The astronaut said it was "a huge honour" to break such a record, and hailed an "exciting time" as Nasa prepares for human expeditions to Mars in the 2030s, included in new legislation signed by Mr Trump last month.

She called the space station "a key bridge" between living on Earth and travelling into deep space, and she singled out the station's recycling system which transforms astronauts' urine into drinking water.

"It's really not as bad as it sounds," she assured the president.

"Well, that's good, I'm glad to hear that," Mr Trump said. "Better you than me."

Ms Whitson was already was the world's most experienced spacewoman and female spacewalker and, at 57, the oldest woman to go into space.

By the time she returns to Earth in September, she will have logged 666 days in orbit over three flights.

The world record – 879 days – is held by Russian astronaut Gennady Padalka.

Ms Whitson broke the Nasa cumulative record set last year by astronaut Jeffrey Williams; Scott Kelly holds the US record for consecutive days in space – 340.

Ms Whitson is also the first woman to command the space station twice and the only woman to have led Nasa's astronaut corps.

Behind her, a banner read: "Congrats Peggy!! New US High-Time Space Ninja."

The sign arrived on Saturday on the commercial cargo ship, the SS John Glenn – barely in time for Monday's celebration.

Nasa astronaut Jack Fischer, who arrived at the space station last week and took part in yesterday's call, said the space station is "by far the best example of international cooperation".

Ms Whitson told the president that spaceflight takes a lot of time and money, so getting to Mars will require collaboration from other countries to succeed.

Nasa is building the hardware right now to test a new rocket that will carry astronauts farther from Earth than ever before, she said.

Mr Trump said: "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?"

"We'll do our best," Ms Whitson said.

The debut of the mega rocket is still more than a year away at least. The date will depend on whether astronauts are on board for the test flight, which could hoist the new Orion capsule to the vicinity of the moon.

Both Ms Whitson and Mr Fischer raised a hand when Mr Trump asked which one of them was ready to go to Mars.

Joining Mr Trump in the Oval Office was astronaut Kate Rubins, who last summer became the first person in space to perform entire DNA decoding, or sequencing.

She said she used a device the size of a mobile phone for the job, and noted that such sequencing can detect microbes aboard spacecraft and monitor astronaut health.

"That's fantastic," Mr Trump said.

"I've been dealing with politicians so much, I'm so much more impressed with these people, you have no idea."

World news

Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: