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Iowa's Peggy Whitson is also honored on Earth



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Peggy Whitson has always been a team player, both as a teenager on the basketball court of Mount Ayr High School and as a record-breaking astronaut aboard the International Space Station.

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She was not the most talented athlete on the high school team, recalled James Saville, her assistant coach. But she has made up for it with an incredible work ethic.

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If the team needed someone-for example, a security guard, even though Whitson was playing forward-she would rise.

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"Peggy was inspired to dream big early in Iowa, and continues to be guided by her Iowa values ​​as she uses her character as one of the most decorated astronauts of all time every day."

– Former Iowa Governor Robert D. Ray

"I'm sure she's as successful as an astronaut," said Saville, 71, who taught at Whitson High School, 1969-05, in Iowa Do the best for the project, not just the best for Peggy Whitson. "

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This moral fiber prompted the Robert D. and Billie Ray Centers to elect Whitson as its 2018 recipient of the Robert D. Ray Pillar of Character Award, its highest accolade. She will receive the award Friday at a ceremony in West Des Moines.

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In an interview with The Gazette, she said she believes her childhood in Iowa earned her a strong moral code.

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"Work ethics is probably my # 1 and # 1 attribute," said Whitson, who grew up on a farm in Beaconsfield. "I think a sincere, honest approach to people and respect for other people."

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The team spirit she showed in high school is still evident in her work as an astronaut.

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"Even if I clean the vents or fix the toilet during the day, it still feels good to be part of the space program and drive exploration," said Whitson, 58.

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The "Pillar of Character Award" will be given to an Iowan who, according to Ray Center, serves as a good role model. The recipient is determined by the National Advisory Council of the Center. Last year, the honor went to Ashton Kutcher.

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"Peggy was inspired at an early age in Iowa to dream big," former Gov. Robert D. Ray said in a statement. "And she continues to be guided by her Iowa values, using her figure as one of the most decorated astronauts of all time every day."

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In her career Whitson has spent a total of 665 days in space, the record for every American. Her longest extraterrestrial route lasted 337 days, most for every US woman at that time.

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"I've been there long enough for it to be my second home," she said.

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When she's on Earth, Whitson often visits schools in the Midwest where she talks to young students about how she became the first International Space Station woman from a farm girl.

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"There is a greater chance that they will live their dream, maybe it seems a bit more realistic if they hear it from me," she said.

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From her story, she hopes students will take out the importance of finding their own passion, working for it, and challenging themselves.

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After completing her training at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant and Rice University in Houston, Whitson worked as a biochemist for NASA and in 1995 took on the role of co-chair of the US-Russian mission research group.

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At the time, the movement felt "more than I should say yes," she said.

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"I think there is some uncertainty in what I think I can do." Pentecost said. "I had to overcome these doubts, these self-doubts, and make me try anyway."

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But the role gave her valuable experience in leadership, teamwork and negotiation – skills that were useful when she was selected as an astronaut candidate next year.

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When she visits schoolchildren, she emphasizes those moments in which she imposed herself.

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Children are always full of questions, she said – about everything, to the bathroom in space.

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"That's always the question they want to ask first, but it takes some courage to ask them," she said. (Astronauts "rely on suction," she added, "good target and lots of wet wipes.")

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But most of the time, Whitson believes children look at her and introduce themselves in outer space.

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"I hope you see dreams are possible," she said. "I hope with my story that they also understand that you have to work for these dreams to make them happen."

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l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com


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