Iowa-born astronaut Peggy Whitson never felt that her gender was a roadblock. She just made sure to have fun along the way.
Whitson, who is in Des Moines this week as part of the Science Center of Iowa's Scientist in Residence program, has completed two six-month tours of duty aboard the International Space Station. She was the first female commander of the station, and spent 377 days in space, the most for any woman.
Her gender, she said, never held her back.
"I had really strong role models and always felt that I was encouraged to pursue my goals," said Whitson, who was inspired to pursue her dream when the first women were selected to be astronauts in 1978, her senior year of high school in Mount Ayr. "I really didn't ever feel that I had to do anything except do a really good job at my job," she said.
Whitson worked at NASA for 10 years before taking her first trip into space in 2002. She returned to space in 2007. And her job never really felt like work, she said.
"I always say I've never had a real job," Whitson said. "I've always done what I wanted to do, which is work at NASA."
Whitson credits women such as Shannon Lucid, who was in the 1978 NASA class, with trailblazing the path for women in biological fields.
Whitson spoke last night at the Science Center's Café Scientifique program about her experiences in space and some of the research she has done. She will also speak at events tonight and tomorrow at the Science Center.