Oldest woman in space blasts off to take the helm of International Space Station

Bill Ingalls | NASA | Getty Images

Iowa-born Peggy Whitson made history on Thursday, becoming the oldest woman to enter space after taking off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

NASA's Whitson, 56, along with Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, are scheduled to dock with the International Space Station's Rassvet module on Saturday. There, they will team up with NASA's Shane Kimbrough and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko.

In February Whitson – who will celebrate her 57th birthday during the mission – will become the first woman to command the International Space Station twice, NASA said.

In 2007, the astronaut, who holds an advanced degree in biochemistry, became the first woman to command the ISS.

"The most important thing about the station is the friendships and the work we accomplish there," Reuters reported Whitson as saying during a news conference in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.

This trip represents Whitson's third long-duration mission to the ISS, according to NASA. Together with her colleagues on the ISS, she will spend more than four months conducting over 250 science investigations into everything from biology and earth science to technology development.