It was announced by NASA in 2015 that Sunita Williams would be one of the first astronauts for U.S. commercial spaceflights and she transitioned from NASA to working with Boeing and SpaceX to train alongside other chosen astronauts on the commercial crew vehicles the companies are developing.
But for Williams, this isn’t the first astronaut training she will have undertaken. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, she was trained as an aviator and flew on helicopter support squadrons during the preparations for the Persian Gulf War and the establishment of no-fly zones of Kurdish areas of Iraq. She also flew in relief missions during Hurricane Andrew when it hit Miami in 1992.
The next year she started training as a naval test pilot and would go on to become a test pilot instructor during which time she would fly more than 30 different aircraft and log more than 2700 flight hours. Wanting to better understand how the aircraft she flew actually worked, she earned a master’s degree in engineering management in 1995.
After being selected as a NASA astronaut candidate in 1998, it was in December 2006 when Williams was part of the crew of the shuttle Discovery when it docked at the ISS where she served as flight engineer. While onboard the station Williams made four space walks for a total of more than 29 hours outside the craft setting a record for women in space. Returning to Earth in June of the next year she had spent a total of 195 days in space.
In July 2012 she launched aboard a Soyuz craft to complete another mission aboard the ISS where she spent four months conducting research and exploration using laboratory space on the station. She also completed three more space walks reclaiming her title of female astronaut with the most cumulative spacewalk time which had been surpassed in 2008. Spending an additional 127 days in space for a total of 322 days she ranks sixth on the all-time U.S. endurance list and second all-time for a female astronaut.
Written by Angela Goad