NASA Astronaut Completes Boston Marathon in Space
International Space Station Expedition 14/15 flight engineer Suni Williams is running the Boston Marathon on a station treadmill.
Credit: NASA TV.

After more than four hours of running in place, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams completed the Boston Marathon while orbiting Earth aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

"Hooyah, I'm done," Williams cheered as she passed the orbital finish line on the space station's treadmill.

Williams, 41, began running the marathon at 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) as the race kicked off in Boston and the ISS circled Earth at some 17,500 miles (28,163 kilometers) per hour.

"It's coming up on 9.5 miles and it looks like we've gone around the world," Williams said about 90 minutes into the 26.2-mile (42-kilometer) race. "So that's pretty cool. A nice statistic."

At about 2:24 p.m. EDT (1824 GMT) she radioed to Mission Control that she'd completed the race with an unofficial time of about four hours, 24 minutes, marking the first time an entrant has competed from orbit.

A native of Needham, Massachusetts, Williams grew up in the Boston area and participated in Boston Marathon once before as a teenager. She qualified for this year's race during the 2006 Houston Marathon with a time of three hours, 29 minutes and 57 seconds. The Boston Athletic Association issued her the bib number 14,000, which Williams taped to the front of her treadmill, for Monday's event.

"I think the idea came up because I'm a big proponent of physical fitness and I just wanted to make kids aware that it is a necessary part of your life," Williams told reporters last week during a video interview broadcast on NASA TV. "I think if I could do something up here to show kids that it's fun and it's important, than maybe somebody will get off the couch and start working out."

High and dry

Unlike her terrestrial counterparts, who braved strong winds and rain to complete the course in Boston, Williams stayed high and dry. She ran a steady six-mile (9.6-kilometer) per hour pace on a treadmill inside the outpost's Russian-built Zvezda service module while orbiting about 210 miles (337 kilometers) above Earth.

The astronaut lauded Kenya's Robert Cheruiyot and Russia's Lidiya Grigoryeva, who won the Boston Marathon's Men and Women divisions, respectively. Cheruiyot finished with a time of two hours, 14 minutes and 13 seconds, while Grigoryeva completed the race in two hours, 29 minutes and 18 seconds, according to the Boston Athletic Association.

"Incredible, congratulations to all those folks," Williams said of the marathon winners. "[Those were] pretty horrific conditions and those are some great times."

Williams said that while she wouldn't experience some of the tougher parts of the marathon's terrestrial course, such as Heartbreak Hill, running on the space station's treadmill - known technically as the Treadmill Vibration Isolation System (TVIS) - is no picnic either.

The exercise equipment features a bulky harness and bungee cords to hold weightless astronauts in place while running, and can prove painful on the shoulders and hips during long treks, she said before Monday's race. It has also experienced technical problems in the past, but performed admirably during Williams' four-hour run.

"The thing held out like a champ, no problems, no faults, no nothing," Williams said of the station's treadmill, which has acted up in the past. "It's a great piece of gear."

Boston support

On Earth, Williams' fellow NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg completed the Boston Marathon in three hours, 32 minutes and nine seconds. Also running the race in Boston were Williams' sister Dina Pandya, flight surgeon Steve Hart and long-time friend Ronnie Harris.

Other friends and supporters were expected to cheer Williams and her fellow marathon runners from a vantage point between the race's Mile 14 and Mile 15 markers, signifying the space station's ongoing crew change between Expedition 14 and Expedition 15, the astronaut has said. Williams joined the space station's Expedition 14 crew in December 2006, and will stay on for the first stage of the Expedition 15 mission.

Williams ran the Boston Marathon as many of her fellow crewmembers slumbered aboard the station, though Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and Expedition 15 flight engineer Oleg Kotov prepared drink pouches and orange slices for her during the race.

"She has my undying respect," Lopez-Alegria said after Williams completed the marathon.

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