When NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returned home from his historic Year In Space mission on March 2, he had logged a record 520 days in space during the course of his career with the US space agency – but records, as the old saying goes, were made to be broken.
On Wednesday, current International Space Station (ISS) Commander Jeff Williams set a new longevity record, and by the time he returns to Earth on September 6, he will have spent a total of 534 days living and working in space, NASA revealed in a press release earlier this week.
This is the fourth spaceflight and third long-duration stay on the ISS for Williams, which the agency said is a first for an American astronaut. He has also completed four spacewalks during his career, with a fifth scheduled for September 1, and was the first person in space to interact with people on Earth via social media during a mission in 2009 and 2010.
Kelly appears to be taking the shattering of his record well: according to Mashable, the now-retired astronaut showed up at mission control to congratulate Williams on his accomplishment, saying that it was “great to see another record broken” and teasing the Expedition 47/48 leader by asking if he could remain an orbit “another 190 days,” as Kelly had previously done.
“That question is not for me, that’s for my wife,” Williams replied humorously. Thus, it appears as if Kelly’s record for longest duration space mission (340 days) will remain intact, for now at least. For those who may be wondering, the US space-longevity record pales in comparison to the international mark of 879 days held by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.
An ‘honor,’ but one that is expected to be short-lived
Williams joined NASA following a distinguished career as a test pilot and was chosen to be an astronaut in 1996, according to Ars Technica. His first spaceflight came in 2000, as he served as the flight engineer and lead spacewalker for space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-101 mission.
In 2006, Williams was a flight engineer for Expedition 13 on the ISS at a time when the facility only had two modules and a trio of crew members, and three years later, he began a stint which saw him serve as a flight engineer on Expedition 21 as commander of Expedition 22, overseeing the installation of the Tranquility module and cupola to the orbiting laboratory.
The new record holder discussed the accomplishment during with NASA’s Rob Navias in June, stating, “I think we would all agree that it’s an honor to spend any day in space, certainly to have accumulated that time is an honor for me.” He added that the station itself was “the bigger story” and that it was “the most significant technological achievement… in history.”
Like Kelly’s record, Williams’ longevity mark is expected to be short-lived. On November 16, veteran NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is scheduled to make her third voyage to the ISS. She currently has spent a total of 376 days in space, and by the end of her next mission, Whitson is expected to have accumulated a total of 555 to 560 days in orbit, according to Ars Technica.
Image credit: NASA