NASA astronaut Jeff Williams to set US spaceflight record
Willaims to become America's most experienced space traveler
Veteran NASA astronaut Jeff Williams will rocket from Earth Friday on a record-setting mission that will make him America’s most experienced space traveler, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
During a nearly six-month expedition aboard the International Space Station, Williams’ career total days in space will climb to 534 — two weeks more than the mark NASA's Scott Kelly set during a yearlong mission that ended this month and was the longest single U.S. flight.
“It’s a call to do it,” Williams said of his multiple long-duration spaceflights. “It’s been a great privilege that I don’t take for granted.”
With Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka, Williams is scheduled to blast off from Kazakhstan at 5:26 p.m. EDT Friday in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. They’ll arrive at the orbiting laboratory less than six hours later, joining three others already on board.
A 58-year-old retired Army colonel and Wisconsin native, Williams will be the oldest NASA astronaut by four years to live for an extended period on the ISS. (One cosmonaut and several space tourists have completed expeditions at age 60.)
Williams will be the first NASA astronaut to perform a third long-duration mission, while making his fourth trip overall to the ISS.
The first time he visited, during a 10-day mission aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in 2000, the fledgling outpost consisted of just two modules and had yet to welcome its first long-term crew, called Expedition 1.
Since then, the station has grown to span the length of a football field with the living area of a 5,000 square foot home, and has been continuously occupied for more than 15 years.
“It’s an amazing human accomplishment,” Williams said. “I want to take the opportunity to remind the world just what an undertaking the space station has been.”
He plans to deliver that message through social media, which astronauts including Kelly have used effectively to share gorgeous photos of Earth and other aspects of life in space.
A veteran of station Expeditions 13 and 21-22, Williams will join Expedition 47 and later assume command of Expedition 48.
With so much experience under his belt, mission preparations mostly consisted of “refresher” training, he said.
But each flight presents new challenges, and weightlessness and the view of Earth from 250 miles up never get old.
“Nothing becomes routine, nothing becomes boring up there,” he said.
He’ll again serve as a self-described “guinea pig” for experiments monitoring microgravity’s effect on the human body, with an eye to multi-year missions to Mars.
Williams expects to participate in two spacewalks, one of which will help install a docking ring that Boeing and SpaceX crew capsules will use as soon as next year.
He also plans to activate a prototype inflatable module designed by Bigelow Aerospace that could be a precursor to privately operated space stations.
“It’s good technology, it’s promising for future exploration,” he said.
And Williams will welcome a series of unmanned resupply vehicles, the first of which is expected to arrive next week. Orbital ATK's Cygnus craft is targeting an 11:05 p.m. Tuesday launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
It was hardly a given that Williams, the son of a high school guidance counselor, would establish a U.S. spaceflight record. It took him multiple applications over a decade to win acceptance into NASA’s elite astronaut corps.
As a result, he encourages perseverance to anyone pursuing a dream.
“If and when the door opens, you won’t know why it opened anyway, because none of us do,” he said. “None of us know why we got the opportunity, but I’m very grateful for it.”
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