The International Space Station gained three new residents Saturday, including the oldest and most experienced woman to orbit the world. A bit of Mars also arrived, courtesy of a Frenchman who brought along a small piece of a Mars meteorite. Launched Thursday from Kazakhstan, the Russian Soyuz capsule docked at the 250-mile-high outpost just an hour or two before NASA launched a notable weather satellite from Florida. The Soyuz delivered NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy. They joined three men already on board: one American and two Russians, reports the AP.
This is the third space station mission for Whitson, who at 56 is older than each of her crewmates. She already holds the record for most time in space for a woman: nearly 400 days during her various missions. By the time she returns, she should break the record for any American, man or woman (that's 534 days, 2 hours, and 48 minutes, reports the New York Post, and was set by Jeff Williams this year). A biochemist by training, Whitson will celebrate her 57th birthday at the orbiting lab in February. Until Thursday, no woman older than 55 had flown in space. Sunday marks the 18th anniversary of the launch of the first space station piece. It's now as big as a football field, with a mass of 1 million pounds and eight miles of electrical wiring. Whitson and company represent its 50th full-time expedition.