Watch the First Female Commander of the Space Station Blast Off Today

She and the Expedition 50/51 crew launch today at 3:20 ET

Nov 17 2016, 5:56pm

Image: NASA

In the big book of Showing Everyone How It's Done, astronaut Peggy Whitson's written more than her share.

As a child growing up in rural Iowa, she raised and sold chickens to pay for her first private pilot's license. The years that followed were marked by people telling her that her space flight dreams weren't worthwhile: Astrophysicist James Van Allen told her that becoming an astronaut wasn't "all that important, long-term." Years later, after graduate school, she turned down a prestigious research position to begin her career at NASA. The interviewer told her that she was making the biggest mistake of her life.

Whitson became the first female commander of the International Space Station in 2007, and at 3:20 EST today, she'll ride a Soyuz rocket alongside cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, to take her place as commander of Expedition 51 on the International Space Station. She's also set to become the oldest woman in space, at 56 years of age.

In a CBS News interview from 2008, following an extremely hard reentry of Expedition 16, Whitson—today holding the title of NASA's most experienced female astronaut, with nearly 377 days logged in space and six space walks totaling 39 hours 46 minutes—said of her many records that "no one should be counting," but until we're beyond the point of having to count, she's happy to be a role model. "It seems odd to me to think of myself that way, but I hope that I can inspire someone to do something they maybe didn't think they could."

We're still counting, Peggy. Watch the crew lift off live on NASA TV, here: