NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson floats in the Cupola window on the International Space Station.
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson has spent more time in space than any other US astronaut in history. From farming in Iowa's smallest city to living and working at the International Space Station (ISS), Whitson has called many places home. But if you ask her where her home is now, the answer is simple: "Planet Earth".
In the final episode of "One Strange Rock," which airs tonight (May 28) on the National Geographic Channel, Whitson talks about what it was like to leave the ISS for the last time after being released during their Astronaut career had spent a total of 665 days in space. The episode entitled "There Is No Place Like Home" shows Whitson and her two Soyuz crewmembers ̵
The finale will also feature exclusive videos of the inside of the ISS filmed by Paolo Nespoli, an astronaut of the European Space Agency who shot scenes for the documentary series during his time in orbit. Nespoli's footage shows a day in the life of Whitson on the ISS, including scenes in which she dragged herself weightlessly around the space station, brushing her teeth, and gazing out of the huge dome window. [In Photos: Record-Breaking Astronaut Peggy Whitson Returns to Earth]
Space.com spoke with Whitson about what it would be like to return home after her historic, record-breaking mission on the ISS – and how much time she spent in space changed her perspective on what she saw as her home.
"Home for me when I grew up was of course the Farm [in Beaconsville, Iowa] and the small community around them," Whitson told Space.com. After graduating from Iowa Wesleyan College, "the home grew a bit bigger because it extended to the other side of the state," she said. "Then I left Iowa and went to Texas to work at NASA's Johnson Space Center, where she considered the whole state home," she said. "I started traveling to Russia a lot, so the United States of America became a home, but I think when I left the planet home was Planet Earth, so I think it's all about perspective."
Whitson is not the only astronaut who thinks about the earth like that. During the "One Strange Rock" series, the eight astronauts talked about how the Earth has changed its perspective from space, where it comes from. This psychological phenomenon is common among space travelers and is often referred to as "the overview effect". From space, astronauts see no boundaries between nations. Instead, they see a unique and beautiful world in which all living things have a special connection through their common origin – and a planet where life has a significant impact on its geological features.
"On my first flight I really surprised how thin the atmosphere is," Whitson told Space.com. "It looks very delicate and I came from my first flight with this new appreciation of how we all share the same air, we all share the same planet, and we have to take care of it," she said. "There was definitely a new appreciation for what our planet does for us."
Although she has no plans to return to space (she has already broken the record for the oldest astronaut at the age of 57), Whitson said she would love going back to a mission to the moon, Mars, or maybe even to a habitable exoplanet, if you have the opportunity. When it comes to foreign worlds, she is optimistic that someday people will find life elsewhere in the universe.
"When we look into space and see thousands upon thousands of stars and realize that all of these stars are in our galaxy and billions of billions of galaxies exist, then I think there will be life out there," said Whitson said. "It may not look exactly like us or based on the same principles as we do, but we'll find it."
Earth will always be the best place for our bodies to survive and live on another planet certainly not easy. But Whitson said she would like to live in a weightless environment like the ISS. "Floating, sleeping, just being in zero gravity – it's so much easier to move around, my joints are not hurting so much there," Whitson told Space.com. "I love being in space, this weightless part is really nice, gravity is annoying."
Do not miss Whitson on the series finale of "One Strange Rock," airing at 10pm on the National Geographic Channel. EDT / PDT (7 pm CDT)