On Wednesday, 24th August, NASA astronaut and Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams surpassed 520 days living in space, breaking Scott Kelly’s previous record for most cumulative time spent in space by a US astronaut, set during Kelly’s year-long mission. By the time Williams returns home on 6th September, he’ll leave us with a new total of 534 days.
The first 10 of Williams’ 520 days were spent on Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS-101 in 2000, back when the International Space Station was still under construction. As a flight engineer and spacewalker for the mission, he helped prepare the space station for its first crew, which arrived less than five months later. At that point, the space station consisted of just the Zarya module and the Unity node.
When Williams returned in 2006 for his first long duration stay as part of Expedition 13, the space station had grown significantly. The Russian Zvezda service module, the US Destiny laboratory and the Quest airlock all had been installed in the intervening years, as well as several segments of the station’s backbone and solar arrays. In addition, the science experiments that the orbiting laboratory was built for were already going on, with subjects ranging from capillary flow to the effects of microgravity on astronauts’ central nervous systems. And Williams was able to add two additional spacewalks to his resume, setting up additional experiments on the exterior of the station and replacing equipment.
After six months at the space station, Williams returned to Earth and waited three years for another visit. He returned in 2009 for his first stint commanding the space station. While he was away, the station continued to grow, adding the Harmony node, the European Columbus laboratory and the Japanese Kibo laboratory. And over the course of his stay for Expedition 21/22, he saw the arrival of the Poisk Russian Mini Research Module and two space shuttle missions, one of which delivered Tranquility node and the space station cupola.
Williams began his current visit to the station with more than 362 days in space. He launched to the station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 18th March, and kicked off his third long-duration mission as part of Expedition 47/48. Since his last visit, the space station had been declared complete, but he’s still finding some construction work to do – he was on board for the arrival and deployment of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, and took part in Friday’s spacewalk to add the international docking adapter that will allow future commercial crew vehicles to dock to the station.
When he leaves the station again, the 534 days that Williams will have racked up will earn him the 14th spot on the all-time endurance list for astronauts and cosmonauts, in addition to the top ranking for US astronauts. But he won’t hold on to the position for long – Peggy Whitson is scheduled to surpass him in 2017 during her next mission, which launches in November.