Astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson offers advice on coping with isolation


Ms. Ellyn Stewart

Dr. Peggy Whitson, record breaking astronaut, visited a virtual Broadcast Journalism class to offer advice to students transitioning to distance-learning.

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.

Dr. Peggy Whitson visits Sacred Heart Greenwich to speak at an all-school assembly about her time as an astronaut in 2018.  Courtesy of Ms. Rachel Zurheide

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.  In 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.

Dr. Whitson speaks with students virtually to share her personal experiences with isolation.  Leah Allen ’22

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.”

Featured Image Courtesy of Ms. Ellyn Stewart