WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump congratulated NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson from the Oval Office on Monday on her record-breaking stay aboard the International Space Station.
Early Monday morning, Whitson officially set the U.S. record for most cumulative days in space, surpassing astronaut Jeff Williams’ record of 534 days, according to NASA.
Whitson arrived at the space station for her current stint on Nov. 19, 2016, and is due to return to Earth in September.
Speaking from the Oval Office, Trump, alongside his daughter, Ivanka, and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, spoke via video with Whitson and fellow astronaut Jack Fischer.
“This is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight,” Trump said. “You have broken the record for the most total time spent in space by an American astronaut. That’s an incredible record to break.
“On behalf of our nation and, frankly, on behalf of our world, I’d like to thank you.”
“It’s actually a huge honor to break a record like this,” Whitson responded. “It’s an honor for me to be representing all the folks at NASA who make space travel possible and make me setting this record feasible.”
Trump, who praised the astronauts as “our finest,” jokingly expressed a preference for the space travelers over politicians.
“I’ve been dealing with politicians so much,” Trump said. “I’m so much more impressed with these people.”
The pair also discussed future travel to Mars, which is still decades from happening.
“Getting there will require some international cooperation,” Whitson said. “Just because it is a very expensive endeavor. But it is so worthwhile doing.”
“We want to do that during my first term or, at worst, my second,” Trump joked. “We’ll have to speed that up a little, OK?”
Informed of an experiment aboard the space station to convert urine to water — which the astronauts have drunk, saying “it’s really not as bad as it sounds” — Trump quipped, “Well, that’s good. I’m glad to hear that. Better you than me.”
Whitson is the first woman to command the space station; she has commanded it twice. Her first stint as commander was in April 2008 and she’s commanding the current crew.
She also holds the record for most spacewalks by a female astronaut. Whitson took her eighth spacewalk in March.