Better Makers: Adler Planetarium Honors NASA Trailblazer, ‘Space Ninja’ Peggy Whitson

The month of June marks some of the greatest milestones for women throughout history.

Exactly 56 years ago, 26-year-old cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to go into space, paving the way for women to take flight. Twenty years later, and two days apart, Sally Ride made history as the first American female astronaut in space.

Since the dawn of human space exploration in 1961, nearly 11 percent — 63 individuals — have been women.

These women have made significant contributions to space science, and their courage and dedication continue to inspire young women to explore the possibilities and enter careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

Former NASA astronaut and biochemist Dr. Peggy A. Whitson, Ph.D., is among the most storied space explorers of our time. Shattering glass ceilings and securing countless world records, Dr. Whitson is the only woman to date to serve as chief of NASA’s astronaut corps.

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Dr. Whitson — dubbed “Space Ninja” — is the world’s most experienced female spacewalker. With a historic career under her belt, Dr. Whitson was notably a member of Expedition 50/51, has completed 10 career spacewalks, became the first woman to command the International Space Station, and holds the U.S. record for most cumulative time in space.

On May 16, the Adler Planetarium Women’s Board held its annual Women in Space Science (WISS) Award Celebration, recognizing Dr. Whitson as the 2019 Women in Space Science Award recipient.

The annual celebration recognizes the life and accomplishments of pioneering women in STEM, with the goal of inspiring young women to pursue careers in these disciplines. The 2019 luncheon raised more than $300,000 for Adler’s STEM education programs.

Nearly 440 guests gathered at the Drake Hotel to honor Dr. Whitson and revel in her learnings during the keynote address. Dr. Whitson spoke about the power to influence the future through three main pillars: perseverance, teamwork, and cooperation.

She reflected on her transformational journey, looking at the Earth from outer space and experiencing something so unique, beyond our small and fragile world. Dr. Whitson described a picturesque scene, being surrounded by infinite stars.

Sharing some of the many important lessons she’s learned throughout her career, Dr. Whitson’s key takeaways as a NASA astronaut and woman in STEM included: diversity is our strength, the most crucial component of any space mission is teamwork, and that each of us has the power to influence the future.

Adler President and CEO Dr. Michelle B. Larson later joined Dr. Whitson for an intimate conversation.

Meghan McCabe, a high school senior active in Adler’s Youth Leadership Council, was also presented with the Adler Planetarium Women’s Board Scholar Award. McCabe and her peers — young women selected by Adler Teen Program staff — met with Dr. Whitson prior to the event for a private capstone presentation.

The Women in Space Science Award Celebration was generously supported by Diamond Sponsors Anders and Donna Gustafsson and Zebra Technologies; Platinum Sponsors Cynthia Ballew and Michael Smith, Amy and Paul Carbone, and Winston & Strawn LLP; Gold Sponsors The Boeing Company, Ulta Beauty, and United Scrap Metal, and many more.

Peggy Whitson Honored by Adler Planetarium: Cynthia Ballew, Meg Sauer, Meghan McCabe, Dr. Michelle Larson
Cynthia Ballew, 2019 Women in Space Science Award Celebration Event Chair; Meg Sauer, Adler Planetarium Women’s Board President; Meghan McCabe, 2019 Women’s Board Scholar Award Recipient; Dr. Michelle Larson, Adler Planetarium President and CEO; and Dr. Peggy Whitson.
Peggy Whitson with Dr. Michelle Larson, NASA
Dr. Michelle Larson and Dr. Peggy Whitson
Peggy Whitson with Adler Planetarium Youth Leadership Council
Adler Planetarium’s Youth Leadership Council members pose with Dr. Peggy Whitson during an intimate gathering the night before the Women in Space Science Award Celebration luncheon.
Peggy Whitson Honored by Adler Planetarium: Rowe Clark Math & Science Academy, Moneeka Taylor, Laneah Allen, Endya Black
Moneeka Taylor, Laneah Allen, and Endya Black, student attendees from Rowe Clark Math & Science Academy.
Peggy Whitson Honored by Adler Planetarium: Jenna Dombroski, Amy Arend
Jenna Dombroski and Amy Arend of United Scrap Metal
Peggy Whitson Honored by Alder Planetarium: Women in Space Science, NASA
The 2019 Women in Space Science Award Celebration luncheon tablescape.
Adler Planetarium's Far Horizons program
Impact: The Far Horizons high altitude ballooning program brings real space exploration down to Earth and into the hands of students, volunteers and the public. For over 10 years, Adler has designed and built experiments with participants of all ages and sent them to the stratosphere aboard high-altitude balloons.

Emily Stone earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work has been published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.