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The Student News Site of Drake University

The Times-Delphic

The Student News Site of Drake University

The Times-Delphic

Astronaut Who Holds U.S. Record for Most Time in Space To Visit Drake Observatory

Drake’s Observatory will host astronaut Peggy Whitson for a Friday Night lecture. Photo by Lily Wasserman | Features Editor

This Friday, Sept. 22, the Drake Municipal Observatory will be hosting a free public event with special guest astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson.

Whitson has been an astronaut since 1996 and went on her first mission to space in 2002. Since then, she has been in space for over 675 days combined, been on 10 EVAs (extravehicular activities) spacewalks and won over 30 awards and honors, including the 2018 Pillar of Character award from the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University. Whitson was also the first female commander of the International Space Station. 

The event, hosted by the Drake Observatory in collaboration with Capital City Pride, will begin with a meet-and-greet at 6:30 p.m., while the fireside chat begins at 8 p.m. Attendees will have an opportunity to ask Whitson questions during the event. 

Herb Folsom, a professor at Drake and head lecturer at the observatory, recommends people arrive in the observatory’s classroom, which fits 75-80 people, before 7 p.m. In case attendance exceeds the classroom’s capacity, the observatory will have an overflow tent outside with televisions to project the discussion. 

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“I’ve heard estimates of 200, but we could get 300. It’s just how quickly the word gets out,” Folsom said.  

Folsom added that there will be food and drink at the event.

For the actual talk, Folsom plans to open by asking her a few questions about her life story before turning questions over to the public.
“I want people to know that she’s an Iowan, that she grew up here in Iowa and she’ll probably talk a little bit about her interest in astronomy and space travel and how she developed that,” Folsom said. “I think that some kids and even some older people will see that and see it kind of as an inspiration.”

Planning this event has had its difficulties since it was being organized while the main speaker was in space.
“Nobody can really ask her ‘are you going to be available on this day?’” Folsom said. 

Though Whitson was at the International Space Station, eventually the organizers decided to host it on one of the observatory’s weekly public nights. 

The event was organized in conjunction with Capital City Pride, a group that organizes events in Des Moines that aim to create “safe spaces for everybody” according to Capital City Pride’s Director of Education Amanda Becker. 

“We really want to bring those different voices in a place where you might not think you would find them,” Becker said. 

The group chose Whitson because of her different perspective and local origins. Becker described Whitson as an “inspiration” and said that after choosing the speaker, they chose the observatory because of its connection to her career. 

According to Becker, Whitson will be very approachable during the event. 

“She wants to take pictures with people, she wants to have those conversations [and] she wants to make it as interesting as possible,” Becker said. 

Weather permitting, attendees can end the night by heading to the upper level of the observatory and look at the night sky through their high-powered telescopes. That night at 8:50 p.m., the International Space Station — the same place Dr. Whitson was just weeks prior — will be visible in the sky.

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