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Sunita set to break US space record
March 29, 2007 19:29 IST
Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams is set to break the US record for the longest stay in space as her ride back to Earth is expected to be delayed.
NASA officials are now looking at ways to make her stay in space easier, given the additional physical and psychological pressures.
"Carl Walz and Dan Bursch set the US record for the longest single spaceflight in 2002, when they flew for 196 days. On Monday, the current space station commander, Michael Lopez-Alegria, will break that record and will set a new one of 214 days if he lands as planned on April 20.
"But that record will probably be shattered on July 11 by station astronaut Sunita Williams, who has been in space since December 9, 2006. That is because her ride home on the shuttle Endeavour, two shuttle flights from now, is not likely to launch as planned on June 28," the NewScientist.com news service has said.
The delay, it is being pointed out, has to do with a ripple effect from the delay of the next shuttle mission, Atlantis, which could not meet its planned March launch because of damages to the external tank from hail recently leaving "thousands of dings" in its foam insulation.
"I don't think she will be up there that much longer than was originally planned," says Kirk Shireman NASA's deputy international space station manager.
Flight surgeons say she is in good physical and mental health, though they will be closely monitoring her and the radiation she is exposed to.
Nonetheless, NASA is currently looking at ways to make her extended stay in space easier psychologically.
These efforts could include sending special treats for her aboard the Russian Progress cargo ships that periodically visit the station.
But NASA is not ruling out having Williams return on the upcoming Atlantis mission, though they say the possibility is unlikely because it would require sending up her replacement and all kinds of extra gear on an already packed shuttle mission.
"We'd like to at least look at remote contingencies, especially where humans are involved," Shireman has been quoted in the online report.