NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson takes student questions during the “Train like an Astronaut” event at Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson takes student questions during the “Train like an Astronaut” event at Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice

NASA Cmdr. Peggy Whitson paid a visit to Westminster Avenue Elementary School on Saturday as part of the “Train like an Astronaut” program, a NASA initiative to encourage physical fitness and intellectual curiosity among students.

Whitson, who has led two International Space Station missions and was the first female commander of a NASA spaceflight, led students in a series of interactive activities intended to peak interest in the wonders of outer space.

“Our hope is to inspire a new generation of explorers,” said Whitson, who has spent more time in space than any other woman — 377 days.

Whitson also fielded questions about how to walk in space (carefully), the distance from Earth to the moon (238,900 miles), if she wore a jet pack in space (yes) and what inspired her to become an astronaut.

“I was nine years old when I saw the first man walk on the moon. That’s when I wanted to be an astronaut,” she said, referring to Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap” during the 1969 Apollo moon landing.

A team from the Johnson Space Center in Houston chose the school for Whitson’s visit based on a recommendation by the Venice Neighborhood Council that focused on the school’s computer and mathematics magnet program.

— Gary Walker

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