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Sunita Williams set for third expedition to space

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Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Williams is poised to embark on her third journey into the boundless expanse of space on Tuesday, occupying the pivotal role of pilot aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft.

The Starliner’s long-awaited liftoff atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station is targeted for 10:34 p.m. EDT Monday, roughly the moment Earth’s rotation carries launch complex 41 into alignment with the space station’s orbit.

“I feel like we’ve had a lot of lessons learned, and they’ve been incorporated. … We wouldn’t say we’re ready if we weren’t ready,” said Williams.

This mission marks the inaugural crewed test flight of the Starliner, a crucial step in advancing human space exploration. Departing from the storied launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, Williams, along with fellow astronaut Butch Wilmore, will voyage to the International Space Station (ISS), symbolizing a potential triumph for Boeing’s ambitious spacefaring endeavors.

Sunita Williams
A Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is rolled out from Boeing’s Commercial Cargo and Processing Facility, Florida. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Boeing’s Starliner program has weathered setbacks and delays, navigating the treacherous terrain of spacecraft development.

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In the words of Mark Nappi, Boeing’s vice president and Starliner program manager, “Design and development is hard—particularly with a human space vehicle.” Indeed, the journey to this momentous occasion has been fraught with unexpected hurdles, each demanding innovative solutions and unwavering resolve.

Yet, despite the obstacles encountered along the way, the team has emerged stronger, fortified by their collective resilience and unwavering commitment to excellence.

For NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, this mission represents more than just a technological achievement; it signifies the dawn of a new era in space exploration.

With both SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner poised to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS, NASA stands on the precipice of a historic milestone—one that promises to redefine humanity’s relationship with the cosmos.

“This is history in the making,” proclaims Nelson during a March 22 news conference, capturing the profound significance of this moment. Indeed, the convergence of technological prowess and human ingenuity has opened a gateway to the stars, offering tantalizing glimpses of the possibilities that lie beyond.

For Williams, a veteran astronaut with an illustrious career spanning decades, this mission represents the culmination of a lifelong dream. Selected as an astronaut by NASA in 1998, Williams has distinguished herself through her exceptional courage and unwavering dedication to exploration.

With two previous space missions under her belt—Expeditions 14/15 and 32/33—Williams has already etched her name into the annals of space history.

During her first spaceflight, Expedition 14/15, Williams shattered records, conducting four spacewalks totaling 29 hours and 17 minutes—the most ever by a female astronaut at the time. Subsequently, on Expedition 32/33, Williams continued to push the boundaries of human achievement, spending four months aboard the ISS conducting groundbreaking research and exploration.

In the words of Williams herself, “We are all here because we are all ready.” Ready to embark on a journey that transcends the confines of Earth, ready to explore the mysteries of the cosmos, and ready to usher in a new era of space exploration—one defined by collaboration, innovation, and the boundless potential of the human spirit.

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