Trump calls US astronaut who broke record for time in space

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump congratulated Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson for setting a new space record on Monday, but expressed disdain for a particular rigour of space life — drinking recycled urine.

Whitson, 57, marked 534 days in orbit and counting on Monday, beating Nasa’s previous record-holder Jeff Williams, but remains still far short of the world title, which belongs to Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka with his 879 days.

“This is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight,” Trump said in a phone call to space, broadcast live on Nasa television.

“That’s an incredible record to break,” he added from the Oval Office, flanked by daughter Ivanka and Nasa astronaut Kate Rubins.

Reading from a prepared statement on his desk, Trump also asked Whitson and her Nasa colleague Jack Fischer “What are we learning from being in space?” After Whitson described technology to support long-duration manned trips to space — including a system that converts urine to drinking water for astronauts — Trump went off script. “Better you than me,” he said.

After earning a doctorate in biochemistry in 1985, Whitson worked as a Nasa scientist for seven years before starting as an astronaut in 1997.

She flew to space for the first time in 2002 aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, staying for a six-month stint at the International Space Station, which orbits some 400 kilometres above the Earth.

She became the first female commander of the research outpost in April 2008, during her second, six-month tour of duty.

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