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Sky's no limit for Winter's Jeffrey Williams

It's a bumpy ride into space, and doesn't take nearly as long as rookie astronaut Jeffrey Williams thought it would. Williams, who hails from Winter, Wis., just southeast of Hayward, is still in the process of being debriefed after his successful...

It's a bumpy ride into space, and doesn't take nearly as long as rookie astronaut Jeffrey Williams thought it would. Williams, who hails from Winter, Wis., just southeast of Hayward, is still in the process of being debriefed after his successful mission into space to repair the orbiting International Space Station, but he took some time this week to talk about his experiences in space with Wisconsin Public Radio station KUWS 91.3.
Describing lift off is difficult to put into words, Williams says, "Lift off happens relatively fast," Williams said. "There's excitement and anticipation. When the main engines ignite the vehicle starts shaking. It's difficult to read the displays. After the solid rocket boosters are jettisoned, it's a lot smoother."
As blue sky turned to black space, Williams felt his body become weightless. "It's a very strange sensation," he said.
That same feeling of weightlessness accompanied Williams when he took a space walk outside the shuttle to make some of the needed repairs. "Definitely, the highlight of the mission was to be able to go outside. Instead of looking out through a window, you're looking out through your visor. To crawl around outside the shuttle was beyond words. The work we did went very well, and that made it even better."
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With his work for the time being completed, Williams allowed himself one special moment. Just for the experience of it, he pushed off from the space station and floated for a while in space. "I just watched the Earth go by," Williams recalled. "It was fantastic."
That moment may not have happened were it not for the rest of the crew, a more experienced bunch, who encouraged Williams to find time to enjoy the experience. "The tendency is you get so focused on the work that needs to be done that you don't take the time during the space flight to enjoy the environment that you're in. This crew did a good job of making sure I took that time," he said.
Seeing the world from a whole new perspective was very humbling, said Williams. "It makes you feel very small and less significant to see the grandeur of the Earth below. The colors that are present on the Earth are absolutely incredible."
Williams viewed beautiful colors on the horizons, cloud formations, and where there were no clouds he could see entire continents. While much of his home state was covered in clouds the day he got a chance to see it, northern Wisconsin was clear and he got a good view of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands.
Williams didn't spend all his spare time looking out the window. He brought with him family pictures. He also brought both of his parents' wedding bands and a few other pieces of jewelry from close friends.
Even with all the preparation and anticipation, Williams said his job wasn't the hardest one, especially in light of the Challenger explosion. "This is not a risk free business. The agency works very hard to manage and minimize those risks, but we're all still aware of them. It's more nerve-wracking to watch a launch than to ride on one. My wife had the hardest job."
Williams said, "It was everything and more so in terms of the experience, the orbit, the work we did, the space walk. I was able to take in all those experiences that others who had gone on before me encouraged me to experience."

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