Ready to launchAll systems are go as northern Wisconsin’s astronaut prepares for next week’s Soyuz rocket blast-off at the Russian space center in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Col. Jeffrey Williams says preparations for the lift-off for the six-month mission onboard the International Space Station are going smoothly.
By: By Mike Simonson/Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
All systems are go as northern Wisconsin’s astronaut prepares for next week’s Soyuz rocket blast-off at the Russian space center in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Col. Jeffrey Williams says preparations for the lift-off for the six-month mission onboard the International Space Station are going smoothly.
The 52 year-old from Winter, Wis., is in routine quarantine status now until his launch Sept. 30. This will be Williams’ third flight into space, spanning the ten year long construction of the International Space Station.
“My last flight I spent almost four years and half that time was overseas, typically a month at a time so there’s a lot of separation in the family. And when it’s spread out over four years of course everybody goes through different phases of life and that puts added pressure on the family. So there are sacrifices the entire family pays.”
Williams was able to visit northern Wisconsin for a week in July, his last visit to his parents before this space mission. In an interview from his boyhood home in Winter, Williams said this expedition will pretty much complete the International Space Station.
“The last module for the U.S. segment is scheduled to arrive in February while we’re there. We call it Node 3. It will have in the U.S. segment the toilet, exercise equipment, some environmental control equipment and then a little bit of stowage.”
Williams will lift-off with a Russian cosmonaut and Canadian Cirque de Soliel fouinder Guy Laliberte, who is paying a reportedly $35 million for a ride into space. They’ll join a crew onboard the space station, linking up on Oct. 2.
About 10 friends and family members will be on hand for the Soyuz space launch. But Colonel Williams’ parents will be watching the lift-off half a world away, at their home in Winter.
Williams’ mother Eunice says she is proud each time her son journeys into Earth’s orbit. But she’s not crazy about blast-offs. She remembers the first launch on the space shuttle Atlantis in 2000: “Oh no, not my son. I didn’t look. I hid my face in his chest.”
That would be her husband Lloyd’s chest. Ironically, his son is not the first person who comes to mind when he’s watching a lift-off.
“First thing I think about is Eunice. How is she taking this one?”
Col. Williams’ wife Anna-Marie says her heart skips a beat during the launch. But her least favorite space activity is space walks. He’s done that three times.
“Scares me a little bit. I usually watch him come out. I watch the spacewalk start for the first few minutes but then, as I’ve told Jeff, if anyone’s ever watched it on TV, to me, it’s very sci-fi-ish.”
Lloyd Williams says he kept a vigil of sorts for his son during his last six month mission on the International Space Station in 2006. He used the northern Wisconsin night sky for that.
“Last time he was up there, I had exact times when he was going over. I wouldn’t have done this if there were people around but as he went by, I talked to him.”
Williams found a way to show his appreciation to his parents during his first flight on Atlantis. He took his parents’ wedding rings along for the ride.
When Williams arrives at the International Space Station October 2 for Expedition 21, the payload will have a few more trinkets. Along with his gear for this six month ride in Earth’s orbit will be “stuff”. He says he’s limited to two to three pounds of it.
“I’m taking a bible. I’m taking some family pictures. I’m taking some small U.S. flags that I like to use for presentations after the flight.”
One other souvenir/mascot will be taken up by Russian Cosmonaut Maxime Surayev. Williams says it’ll be a small stuffed lion. It’s a Russian space tradition with a practical purpose.
“When the rocket cuts off once we get to orbit, that thing will be flying all over because of weightlessness. So we jokingly call it our zero-G meter.”
A bit of astronaut humor? “I know. Bad.”
This will be Williams’ third trip into space—his second on board a Soyuz rocket.
This will also be his second six month stay on board the International Space Station.
He says the isolation of Earth’s orbit is eased by contact with his family in Houston and also from several Bible passages. He has a favorite from the book of Job. (Job 26:7)
“The phrase says ‘He hangs the Earth on nothing’. There were myths and legends historically back a long time ago that the Earth was flat or it was suspended or it was sitting on the top of pillars.
That and other passages out of Job describe the reality. I can attest by going around the world many, many times: There are no strings attached and He has hung it on nothing.”