Sunita Williams all set for second space sojourn

Indian-American Sunita Williams, a record-setting astronaut who lived and worked aboard the International Space Station for six months in 2006, is all set for her second space odyssey.

46-year-old Williams is scheduled to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 8.40 am tomorrow (8.10 am IST) with Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, NASA said.

The three crew members will join the Expedition 32 crew aboard the International Space Station when their Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft docks to the orbiting complex on Tuesday. According to NASA, Williams, a flight engineer, and her colleagues will be aboard the station during an exceptionally busy period that includes two spacewalks, the arrival of Japanese, US commercial and Russian resupply vehicles, and an increasingly faster pace of scientific research.

Williams, whose father hailed from Gujarat, was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1998. She was assigned to the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 14 and then joined Expedition 15. She holds the record of the longest spaceflight (195 days) for woman space travellers.

She received a master's degree from the Florida Institute of Technology in 1995. In the space, Williams, who will become commander of Expedition 33, and her team of astronauts plan an orbital sporting event to mark the Summer Olympics in London.

"I'm just looking forward to seeing the full capability of the space station, it's an experiment, not only the things that we're doing inside but also all the engineering that has gone into allowing us to dock new vehicles, do space walks, Russian and US. So, it's a pretty complicated vehicle now and I'm looking forward to being part of it," Williams said recently.

Meanwhile, in orbit high above the Earth, Expedition 32 Flight Engineer Joe Acaba focused on cleaning the exhaust and intake ducts of the Starboard Crew Quarters yesterday to prepare them for the arrival of new crewmates, NASA said.

Acaba also swapped out batteries on the Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students (EarthKAM) camera in the Window Observational Research Facility inside the Destiny laboratory. EarthKAM is a student-operated photography experiment that allows middle school students to programme a digital camera aboard the station to photograph a variety of geographical targets for study in the classroom.

Over the weekend, the station residents, besides continuing preparations for the arrival of their crewmates and performing some regular maintenance duties, will enjoy some off-duty time and have an opportunity to speak with family members, NASA said.

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