Astronaut Peggy Whitson says students in STEM are the key to Missions to Mars

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson's accomplishments are out of this world -- she just broke the record for cumulative time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut. Now, she wants to encourage the next generation of space explorers.

On Monday, Whitson accepted a congratulatory phone call from President Donald Trump.

"Well it's actually a huge honor to break a record like this, but it's an honor for me basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make this spaceflight possible and who make me setting this record feasible," Whitson told the President.

Whitson also gave an update on the Missions to Mars.

"We're excited about the Missions to Mars in the 2030s, and so we actually have hardware on the ground that's being built for the SLS rocket that's going to take us there," Whitson explained.

Whitson, who lives and works aboard the International Space Station, also encouraged students to study STEM classes (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and those at the U.S. Space & Rocket center agree.

"Try to encourage any type of spark that a child looks at, interested in, it could be a book they read, it could be something they observed," said Joseph Vick, Manager of Museum Education at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Whitson and those at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center said it takes inspiration from today's students to get us where we're going.

"We have those pieces of technology that we need to further so we are now at Space Camp in the Rocket Center empowering the next generation, the next generation of Mars explorers and they have that basis of technology that can send them past the Moon," Vick said.

Whitson set the record for most cumulative days in space, surpassing Astronaut Jeff Williams' record of 534 days.