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Space-bound

"Space-bound" Continued...

Issue: "Illegal passage," April 15, 2006

A $48.3 million deal between NASA and the Russian space agency sparked new hope and opened a door for Col. Williams to climb aboard the ISS courtesy of a Russian Soyez rocket flight, an opportunity he sees as a calling. Col. Williams believes space exploration falls under the mandate found in Genesis to subdue creation. He says the space program is just one of many current endeavors that reveals "a sense of searching in the human soul to understand that which we don't understand."

A broad spectrum of science experiments is one way he will participate in that quest. As the expedition's science officer, many of the experiments Col. Williams conducts will observe the effects of space flight on the human body. The anticipated docking of the space shuttle Discovery in July will expand the mission's science potential when European space agency astronaut Thomas Reiter joins the expedition for the duration of the mission.

One of Col. Williams' first experiments involved a campout-without the campfire and S'mores, however. On April 3, Col. Williams and Expedition 12 Commander Bill McArthur took their sleeping bags aboard the U.S. airlock module to test a potential timesaving method for spacewalks. Prior to spacewalks, astronauts must breathe pure oxygen to remove the nitrogen from their bodies-in space, nitrogen can produce a dangerous condition called "the bends."

In this experiment, they were testing a new method that could potentially allow astronauts to spend the night in a sealed and depressurized module the night before a spacewalk, shaving hours off the usual method of preparation. A series of false alarms indicating low levels of carbon dioxide halted the experiment.

Despite the list of experiments to conduct and a massive space station to maintain, Col. Williams still expects weekends to be weekends. He anticipates plenty of hours to catch up on his reading and hopes to lead a video teleconference worship service with his home church, Gloria Dei Lutheran, sometime in July.

It's the spacewalks currently scheduled to begin in July, though, that Col. Williams said will be the hardest thing to do and take the most work to prepare for, but the rewards are great: "It's one thing to be in orbit inside the space station and look out the window. It's another thing to put a suit on and go outside and be a satellite yourself."

The view during moments like those makes the years of training, separation from family, and physical exertion all worthwhile. "The star field is absolutely incredible," Col. Williams said. "Again, that just invokes the awe and wonder of creation, and it invokes the infinite nature of the Creator."

Col. Williams said international reaction to the March 29 solar eclipse on the day of the launch from Kazakhstan reminds "all of us who work in the space exploration program just what our purpose is-for discovery and exploration and understanding the unknown."

Three-bedroom home

Fifteen countries have joined the United States to form the International Space Station team since its first expedition in 2000. Upon its scheduled completion date of 2010, the ISS will be four times as large as the Russian space station Mir and five times as large as the U.S. Skylab. The ISS orbits Earth approximately every 92 minutes.

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