NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and two Russian cosmonauts launched towards the International Space Station yesterday at 5:26 p.m. EDT onboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The new space mission is expected to set a new record high for the most number of cumulative days in space clocked in by a U.S. astronaut.
To date, Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly holds the current record when he spent 522 days in space. Kelly completed his mission last March 1 and he announced his retirement soon after.
Together with cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin, Williams are expected to dock at the ISS at 11:12 p.m. and will be greeted by the current crew headed by NASA's Commander Tim Kopra.
NASA says the Expedition 47 crew will carry on the ongoing experiments onboard the ISS. These experiments cover areas of biotechnology, biology, Earth science and physical science.
The new six-moth ISS mission will give Williams the chance to set a new record of 534 cumulative days in orbit. On June 4, Williams will replace Kopra in command for Expedition 48 and will return to Earth together with Skripochka and Ovchinin in September 2016.
The new ISS mission will be the fourth trip to space for the 58-year-old Williams. It will also be his third six-month stay at the ISS. Interestingly, he was the first astronaut to interact live with the followers and fans of NASA's social media accounts.
"It is a great privilege to be part of this. I feel very ready to be going back to the space station," said Williams on NASA TV earlier this week.
A Wisconsin native, Williams is a father of two and a grandfather of three. He graduated from Winter High School in 1976. In 1980, he received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Applied Science and Engineering from the U.S. Military Academy (USMA).
To date, Russian cosmonaut Genny Padalka currently holds the world's record for the most number of cumulative days spent in orbit with 879 days. He complemented his final space mission last year in September.