08 August 2005

Monday Menagerie X

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to esoteric and offbeat things, in the hope that these will supply learning experiences for us all.

Someone you ought to meet...

Jeff Williams
Jeff Williams
Yesterday after church I had lunch with a friend whom I want to introduce to you: Jeff Williams. Jeff is a graduate of West Point. He competed on the sport parachute team there. He is also an expert scuba diver and had a distinguished career as a test pilot and helicopter pilot. He has multiple degrees in aeronautical engineering and a master of arts degree in—get this—"national security and strategic studies" from the US Naval War College. He also reads PyroManiac.

So, obviously, Jeff is a bright and highly motivated guy.

Jeff and his wife Anna-Marie live in the Houston area. But they were in California yesterday to visit Jason, the younger of their two adult sons. Jason is spending the summer as an intern on a tall ship, currently sailing south along the west coast. It's the schooner "Bill of Rights," currently docked in Oxnard, about 50 miles from here.

Now, you might think sport parachuting, scuba diving, and test piloting is pretty exciting stuff. And a summer on a tall ship is cooler yet.

But I haven't even told you the most interesting thing about Jeff: He's probably the only PyroManiac reader who has ever done this:

Jeff Williams at the helm
Jeff in the cockpit of the Space Shuttle Atlantis

Yes, that's the real Space Shuttle, and Jeff is really performing a maneuver with it. And it's really in orbit.

Jeff's a NASA astronaut. He was a mission specialist on STS-101, the third US Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS). While Shuttle Atlantis was docked with the ISS, Jeff and fellow-astronaut Jim Voss completed a 6-hour, 44-minute space walk that spanned parts of May 21 and May 22, 2000.

The space walk
The space walk

In NASA parlance, a space walk is called EVA, for extra-vehicular activity. (In our house, "extra-vehicular activity" is just something you do with the spare car.) During Jeff's long EVA, he and Voss installed a Russian crane, repaired and re-seated an American crane, put handrails on the outside of the ISS, and installed an external camera cable and an antenna.

In all, Jeff was in space for nearly ten days. More than half that time, the Shuttle Atlantis was docked with the ISS. While docked, the Shuttle thrusters were fired three times, pushing the Space Station to an orbit some 27 miles further from earth than previously. Atlantis returned after ten days in space, landing in Florida.

Before going into space, Jeff had obtained a copy of The MacArthur Study Bible on CD-ROM, and he loaded it on a laptop for use while he was in orbit. He brought the CD-ROM back from space, and we have it framed and hanging in a place of honor in the Grace to You office. It has traveled further than any other copy of the MacArthur Study Bible in history.

I met Jeff not long afterward, when he came to Grace to You to give John MacArthur the CD-ROM. Jeff loves Christ and has a wonderful testimony.

Darlene and I got to know both Jeff and Anna-Marie a year or so later on a ministry-sponsored trip to New England. At the time, Jeff was on vacation between training sessions for a future space mission.

He is still in training for a six-month stint at the ISS. Much of his training has been in Russia, because the plan is for him to travel to the Space Station with a Russian crew in a three-man Soyuz vessel that will launch from Kazakhstan next year. He's also on the backup crew for a mission scheduled to launch in October (less than two months from now), so there's a small chance he'll go up then.

In any case, he'll spend half a year in weightlessness and near isolation at the Space Station. How cool is that? He's promised to send me an e-mail from space. And since he'll be up there for six months, he'll surely need a PyroManiac fix or two also.

To my surprise, Jeff tells me the Space Station doesn't have an Internet connection that allows astronauts to surf the Web. (He says they have more important business to do than read blogs.) But since he will have e-mail access, I suggested he start a blog of his own and keep an on-line journal while he's out there. I hope he does.

Anyway, now that you know Jeff, keep him and Anna-Marie in your prayers. Even if he doesn't blog while in orbit, I'll try to blog a few updates on him during his six months at the Space Station next year. Watch this space.

A footnote: Last year I was preaching on Psalm 19 ("The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork") and Jeff, who was in town for the Shepherds' Conference, came to my class. In that message, I described a photo of Jeff, hanging in space with the earth under him, which I was using for Windows Wallpaper. Several people who have downloaded that message have e-mailed me to ask how to get a copy of that photo. I'll do better than that. I'll give you the URL to the mother lode.

NASA has several brilliant online photo galleries, where you can download spectacular digital space photos for free. (Actually, your tax money has already bought the photos, so enjoy them.)

If you want some stunning photos of Jeff Williams in space, click here, and do a search for photos from STS-101. The pictures below are small samples of what you'll find there. These thumbnails (some of which are just small, cropped and downsized fractional images of the real pictures) don't really do justice to the actual photos. The high-resolution versions of these photos that you can download are fantastic. (Click on the small versions below for direct links to the NASA URLS where you can download the high-res versions.) Costco, Wal-Mart, or Kinko's can print these for you in large format, or resize them to make great Windows Desktop wallpaper.

Jeff Williamsn (foreground) and Jim Voss walked in space for nearly seven hours
Jeff Williams (foreground) and Jim Voss walked in space for nearly seven hours

Jeff flashes the One-Way sign
Jeff flashes the One-Way sign

Jeff peers into the window of Atlantis's cabin while walking in space
Jeff peers into the window of Atlantis's cabin while walking in space

One of my favorite photos from Jeff's mission.
This is one of my favorite photos from Jeff's mission. They shot a lot of photos of volcanoes from space. This is Mt. Etna. (You can download a copy from NASA without my labels by clicking on the picture.) Notice the plume of smoke drifting east from the volcano. Darlene and I went to Sicily that year to do a conference in the picturesque town of Giardini-Naxos, right on the coast, at the very base of the volcano. The mountain was erupting off and on that year, and we saw this same scene from ground level.
     If you have Google Earth, click here to see the same view in a mosaic of satellite pictures.
     If you don't have Google Earth, click here to get it.

Phil's signature


vox reformata said...

phil, buddy, you rock man. one email is all it took for your response. may God continue to bless the work of your hands.

Steve Weaver said...


Jeff Blogworthy said...

Very cool. Here is some more bio info on Jeff.

Schooner Bill of Rights? Serves in government? Hmm. Sounds like one of those dangerous political activist types.

Kim said...

Well these pictures certainly provide a beautiful visual affirmation to Psalm 19:1.

Fred Butler said...

I enjoyed meeting Jeff the first time he came to GTY to present the ministry with the CD-ROM he took into space. He was a genuinely good guy. One thing I can blame him for, however, is getting me hooked onto satellite tracking. He told me about the Heavens Above website where you can enter in your GPS coordinance and then find the times and locations of satellites in orbit. The site also tracks the ISS and all shuttle missions. Since Jeff told me about this site, I check it practically every other day or so.

In fact, to tell you what a geek I am about it, this past Saturday morning I got up at 5 in the morning to watch the shuttle and the ISS float by overhead. The shuttle had just recently disengaged from ISS, so there were two "stars" floating by next to one another. I thought that was one of the coolest things I have seen in a while.

Thanks for the obsession Jeff,

Hip and Thigh

puritanicoal said...

Great post.

When I was a kid I really wanted to be an astronaut. All I had in my head was space.

Matthew Self said...

I am thankful there are people who still can find wonder in space, as well as people who can still appreciate the amazing sacrifice and abilities of astronauts. I find it all very humbling and reminds me how BIG of a God we serve.

Frank Martens said...

I'm adicted to this.

Family Blogs said...

Hi Phil
No doubt about it, one of your coolest entries yet!

I just know I'm going to lose hours looking through the NASA galleries. I'll blame you when my wife asks why the vacuuming isn't done!

Bhedr said...

How cool is that? Pretty cool Phil, pretty cool!

Away From The Brink said...

Praise the Lord, and pass the Lithium Hydroxide cannister.

inki said...

Very nice article/info Phil.