Spaceflight Insider

Jeff Williams sets US space endurance record

Jeff Williams shows off his mission patches. Click for full image. Photo Credit: NASA

Jeff Williams shows his mission patches. He gets a patch for each vehicle and expedition he has flown with STS-101, Soyuz TMA-8, Expedition 13, Soyuz TMA-16, Expedition 21, Expedition 22, Soyuz TMA-20M, Expedition 47, and Expedition 48. Click for full image. Photo Credit: NASA

Astronaut Jeff Williams, International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 48 commander, recently surpassed former astronaut Scott Kelly for the all-time U.S. endurance record in space – more than 520 days as of Aug. 24. By the time he returns home on Sept. 6, he will have accumulated more than 534 days above Earth over four missions.

Expedition 13

Jeff Williams inside ISS during Expedition 13. Photo Credit: NASA

Williams surpassed Kelly, who himself took the record from Mike Fincke back in October 2015. Additionally, Williams’ record is expected to be smashed by Peggy Whitson, who is scheduled to stay some 180 days aboard the ISS as part of Expeditions 50 and 51.

Whitson will launch in Soyuz MS-03 in mid-November. She will eclipse Williams’ record sometime in early April. By the time she lands in May 2017, her total will be some 556 days, placing her in the top 10 all-time of any person.

Earlier in the week, Kelly stopped by Mission Control, Houston, to congratulate Williams on surpassing endurance record.

“It’s great to see another record broken, especially by a Sardine,” Kelly said, referencing the fact they are part of the same 1996 NASA class of astronauts. “But I do have one question for you. And my question is, do you have another 190 days in you?”

While Williams broke the all-time endurance record, Kelly holds the U.S. single spaceflight record at 340 days.

Laughing at the question, Williams said that question was not for him.

“That question is for my wife,” Williams said.

In an Aug. 10 in-flight interview, Williams told CBS News he didn’t pay much attention to records, but he reflects about his experience a lot.

“What comes to mind is just the honor of being part of the International Space Station from the beginning all the way through the assembly to now, and working with this great team,” Williams said. “It occurred to me yesterday, I haven’t seen [the ISS] this productive. We’re doing very significant work since we were assembling this thing with a visiting shuttle crew.”

Williams, along with Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka, is expected to return to Earth on Sept. 6 (Sept. 7, Kazakhstan time) in Soyuz TMA-20M to finish their 172-day mission. At that time, Williams will move to number 14 on the space endurance list. Number one on that list is Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka at 878 days.

Williams’ first mission was aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2000. That was followed by two long-duration flights to the ISS in 2006 and 2010. He launched into space on his current mission back on March 18.

Video courtesy of NASA


Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

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