NASA has anew spaceflight champion in astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who is setting anew record aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for the longest missionby a U.S. spaceflyer.
As ofTuesday, Lopez-Alegriahas lived and worked aboard the space station for more than 197 days andcounting, breaking NASA's previous record of 196 days set in 2002 by Expedition4 astronauts Carl Walz and Dan Bursch. By the time Lopez-Alegria returns toEarth on April 20 with crewmate Mikhail Tyurin, a cosmonaut with Russia'sFederal Space Agency, they will have spent 214 days in space since theirSeptember 2006 launch.
ISS flightcontrollers congratulated Lopez-Alegria, who commands the space station'sExpedition 14 crew, as he hit the 197-day mark, though the veteran spaceflyersaid he doesn't expect the title to stick.
"You knowit's kind of being like Barry Bonds and...Albert Pujos playing on the same team,"Lopez-Alegria, an avidbaseball fan, said referring to professional ballplayers. "I have a feelingmy record isn't going to last very long, and I know exactly who is going to breakit."
Lopez-Alegriawas referring to fellow NASA astronautSunita Williams, an Expedition 14 flight engineer, who will stay aboard theISS after to join the station's Expedition 15 crew after he and Tyurin returnto Earth. Williams is due to return to Earth aboard NASA's space shuttleEndeavour in July, though the delayed launch of next shuttle flight - STS-117aboard Atlantis - will delay the astronaut's homecoming until later thissummer. By mid-July, she will surpass Lopez-Alegria's 214-day record for NASA'slongest continuous spaceflight.
"Your glorydays in the hot sun may not last long," flight controllers told Lopez-Alegria.
But with 10spacewalks and more than 67 hours of spacewalking time - half of itperformed during Expedition 14 - under his belt, Lopez-Alegria still topsNASA's list as the most experienced U.S. spacewalker. Williams too, with fourspacewalks and more 27 hours during Expedition 14, holds the title for the mostspacewalks performed by a female astronaut.
The worldrecord for the longest single spaceflight is held by Russian cosmonaut ValeryPolyakov, who spent 438 days in space aboard Russia'sMir Space Station between 1994 and 1995.
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