By Leah Allen -- This article originally appeared on the King Street Chronicle, the student-run Upper School newspaper.

Dr. Peggy Whitson, an astronaut who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) until June 2018, visited a Sacred Heart Greenwich Broadcast Journalism virtual class April 1. Dr. Whitson holds the United States record for the most cumulative days spent in space, and she offered advice to students who are transitioning to distance-learning during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

During her visit to the Broadcast Journalism class, Dr. Whitson answered questions about how she dealt with isolation while in space. She stressed the importance of maintaining a big-picture mindset when facing challenges.

“Remembering the big picture can help you overcome some of your obstacles in day to day life,” Dr. Whitson said. “I think for us now in isolation, we have to come to grips with the fact that it’s not the same. I think the bigger picture is that we are saving lives by this isolation, which should give us the motivation and incentive to continue.”

As an astronaut, Dr. Whitson completed a total of ten space walks, setting the record for the most spacewalks completed by a woman, and spent a total of 665 days in space. During her first trip to the International Space Station in 2002, Dr. Whitson conducted 21 science investigations and became NASA’s first Space Station Science Officer. n 2008, she became the first female astronaut to be named commander of the International Space Station, according to

Dr. Whitson also visited Sacred Heart October 29, 2018. During her previous visit, she participated in the reopening of the newly-renovated Mary Aloysia Hardey RSCJ Observatory and spoke to students and faculty at an all-school assembly about her personal experiences in space exploration.

During her virtual visit, Dr. Whitson explained that while she was in space, it was important for her to find a higher purpose or goal for each day. She believes that students should strive to do the same on a smaller scale.

“Maybe your higher purpose for today is to clean the closet, or get some particular school assignment done,” Dr. Whitson said. “These are the things that you kind of have to do on a day to day basis to incentivize each day and make it worthwhile.”

Lastly, Dr. Whitson shared that isolation and social distancing never hindered her ability to connect and collaborate with her peers. She encouraged students to continue to find ways to connect with one another.

“[In space], collaborating with my peers and being a part of a team was very important to me,” Dr. Whitson said. “It really made me feel very satisfied with my work because the work was then bigger than me, it was about all of us working together. You can still do this even though you’re isolated. Make phone calls, talk over email, text your friends. You can still make valuable connections even at a distance.”


Astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson visited King Street on Monday, October 29, to serve as the School’s scientist-in-residence for a full day of remarks, conversations, visits, and tours with our Barat Center through twelfth-grade students and faculty. A true pioneer, Dr. Whitson holds the record for most days spent in space by a NASA astronaut. Plus, she has participated in ten career spacewalks and was the first female commander of the International Space Station.

Piper Van Wagenen ’20, granddaughter of Neil Armstrong, introduced Dr. Whitson before she addressed the entire student body during the school day, giving students time to ask questions about her career as well as the intricacies of living in space. Dr. Whitson then visited the Mother Aloysia Hardey, RSCJ Observatory to help reopen the space and debut the new telescopes and stopped by the Makerspace to meet with the Middle School Robotics team.

Students from the broadcast journalism show “Today from the Heart”, the King Street Chronicle, and the Tiger Times all interviewed Dr. Whitson for their respective publications.

Also on campus for the event was anchor and reporter Kate Snow and the crew from NBC Nightly News. In addition to getting to watch their reporting in action, broadcast journalism students had the opportunity to interview Ms. Snow about her illustrious career.

The partnership with IBM and NASA extends beyond the Sacred Heart Greenwich campus too. The Mother Aloysia Hardey, RSCJ Observatory facility and astronomy curriculum will be available to the entire Network of Sacred Heart schools through Network Exchange and the School’s proprietary online learning program SophieConnect. SophieConnect extends the academic reach of the School to give students access to digital courses in a wide variety of subjects taught by teachers at other Sacred Heart Network Schools.

Additionally, the Summer Outreach program, a five-week academic enrichment, and leadership program attended by 260 boys and girls from 28 public schools in Fairfield and Westchester counties, will also use the Observatory facility. The students, in grades 2-8, are academically qualified and most qualify for Federal Free/Reduced Price Lunch.