Forget the Olympics. At NASA, they're breaking cosmic records

Jeffrey Williams, commander of the International Space Station, has spent 521 days in orbit, breaking the previous American record set by astronaut Scott Kelly.

Jeff Williams monitors bowling ball-sized internal satellites known as SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) during a maintenance run in the International Space Station's Japanese Kibo Laboratory Module in June 2016. On Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, Williams, commander of the ISS, marked his 521st day in orbit, accumulated over four flights. That surpasses the 520-day record set by Scott Kelly, whose one-year space station mission ended in March.

On Wednesday a US astronaut set a new cosmic record.

Jeffrey Williams, commander of the International Space Station, broke the national record for most cumulative time spent in space: 521 days.

Mr. Williams will touch back down in two weeks, having logged 534 total days over four flights. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly held the previous national record of 520 days. Mr. Kelly’s one-year stint on ISS ended in March.

But the new record will be short-lived: Peggy Whitson, who has already logged 377 days in orbit, is scheduled for a six-month stay on ISS beginning in November.

NASA saw Kelly's feat as an important one in determining how the human body holds up after an extended time in space, as Lucy Schouten reported for The Christian Science Monitor:

NASA scientists have been taking careful note of changes in Kelly's health during the past year [in space], and they hope to launch other year-long missions to the ISS to continue the research on how long-term space travel affects the human body.

“Scott has become the first American astronaut to spend a year in space, and in so doing, helped us take one giant leap toward putting boots on Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a NASA release.

But unlike the Olympic Games played out on Earth, the United States doesn’t exactly dominate when it comes to world records.

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka owns the title for most cumulative days in space. Mr. Padalka has spent a total of 879 days in orbit over just five missions. Valery Polyakov, also Russian, holds the record for longest consecutive space trip. From January 1994 to March 1995, Mr. Polyakov spent 436 days aboard the Mir space station.

But that didn’t stop the US astronauts from celebrating their national record. On Wednesday morning, Kelly called Williams from mission control in Houston to offer his congratulations.

"It's great to see another record broken," Kelly radioed. "But I do have one question for you. And my question is: You got another 190 days in you?"

Williams replied, "That question's not for me, that's for my wife." He thanked Kelly for accepting the one-year stint "so I didn't have to."

On Sept. 1, Williams and flight engineer Kate Rubins will conduct maintenance on ISS during a 6.5-hour spacewalk. The two will retract a backup thermal radiator, which had been used after a previous ammonia coolant leak, and install a new HD video camera on the station’s exterior.

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