Veteran Shuttle Astronaut, FIT Class of ’95, Among Four ‘Space Pioneers’
MELBOURNE, FLA. — Sunita L. Williams, who earned a master’s degree in engineering management from Florida Institute of Technology, was chosen to be among the first group of astronauts to fly the next generation of commercial crew vehicles, NASA announced Thursday.
Williams, who spent 322 days in space on two shuttle missions, joins Eric Boe, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley as what NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden called “space pioneers.”
“These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars,” Bolden said in a blog post announcing the astronaut selection.
A successor to the 30-year-long space shuttle program, the commercial crew program seeks to send astronauts to deep space by the 2030s on privately built spacecraft. Flight testing, which will involve the four astronauts announced this week, is scheduled to start in 2017.
Williams, a U.S. Navy captain, was born in Euclid, Ohio, but considers Needham, Massachusetts, her hometown. She received her commission in the Navy in May 1987 and became a helicopter pilot, logging more than 3,000 flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft. NASA chose Williams for the astronaut program in 1998.
In addition to her nearly year-long stint in space over two missions, Williams currently holds the record for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut (50 hours and 40 minutes).
Preceding her selection into the astronaut program, Williams earned her advanced degree at Florida Tech’s Patuxent site in Maryland in 1995. She told the university’s Florida Tech Today magazine in an earlier interview that the extended studies program was an ideal fit.
“It’s a perfect place because they are working and testing aircraft and this automatically can become part of their studies or their thesis. It goes hand-in-hand. There is an audience who needs this service,” she told the magazine.
Florida Tech was not the only on-site school available for Williams, but she chose it because of the school’s reputation. “Florida Tech had the reputation for being the hardest, the most difficult, I don’t know why I chose that, maybe the challenge,” said Williams, who holds an undergraduate degree from the U.S. Naval Academy. “Florida Tech is very professional. They have high standards.”