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President Donald Trump will speak next week to the commander of the orbiting International Space Station. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said today the call with astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer will take place on April 24. On that date, Whitson, the first woman to command the International Space Station, will have spent 535 days in space, the most time spent in space of any American astronaut. Astronaut Jeffrey Williams currently holds the record.
Whitson's time in space was extended because an empty seat will be available on a Russian Soyuz capsule for her return. The 57-year-old biochemist has also performed eight spacewalks, more than any other woman, and a ninth may be in the offing. Spicer says the call is partly intended to discuss the "importance of encouraging women to pursue careers" STEM -- science, education, technology and math -- fields. Astronaut Kate Rubins and Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump, whose White House portfolio involves women's empowerment, will also take part in the call. Last month, Trump signed new legislation adding human exploration of Mars to NASA's mission. The law authorizes USD 19.5 billion in spending for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for the budget year that began October 1. Trump hailed the work of NASA when signing the bill, saying it "has inspired millions and millions of Americans to imagine distant worlds and a better future right here on earth." The call will air live on NASA TV.