21 September 2009

Rocket Man

Someone you ought to meet...
Today we reach far back into the archives of my original blog to introduce you to a longtime Pyro-reader. The info below was current in 2005. See below my signature for some more current information and an important update.

(First posted 8 August 2005)

Jeff Williams
Jeff Williams
Yesterday [7 August 2005] 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 PyroManiacs.

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 PyroManiacs 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 Pyro-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 [now Fedex Office] 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

2009 Update:

In late September 2006 (almost exactly 3 years ago) Jeff successfully completed Expedition 13, and while that mission was underway, I blogged about it several times—especially my efforts to track and watch the Space Station from several places all over the world. Jeff did not blog from the Space Station, but he did take more photographs of earth than any other astronaut in history, and you'll find abundant examples of his handiwork here. He also called to wish me happy birthday from the Space Station—the longest long-distance birthday greeting I have ever received.

After 3 years on earth, Jeff is about to launch again for what I suppose will be his last long-duration space mission. He'll be serving as flight engineer for Expedition 21; then staying on to serve as Commander on Expedition 22. And this time, he is going to be Twittering as well as blogging. Click here to follow him on Twitter. (His Tweets so far have been fascinating.) Jeff tells me he'll be reading our blog from orbit again on this mission, so please be on your best behavior.

The launch is set for next week in Kazakhstan. Darlene and I are planning to go to Houston to watch the launch on the big screen at NASA's Mission Control. I'll blog about it more, Lord willing, this Friday, and then we'll be blogging some occasional updates on the mission from time to time, just like last time. Meanwhile, keep Jeff in your prayers. These days prior to launch are stress-filled and tiring.


C. M. Sheffield said...

While in the Navy, I was deployed for six months to Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily. The Air Station is just south of Mt. Etna. A great view of this volcano could be seen just out of my barracks window. We witnessed an eruption during our deployment there. Very interesting that Mt. Etna would come up in this blog of all places!

David Kyle said...

Just think how much more exciting space exploration would be if it was done all to the glory of God! I rejoice to hear of at least one Christian doing so.

Rachael Starke said...

Wow, this is such great timing!

I'm giving a talk on the glory of God in creation for our womens' Bible study this Wednesday, and I've been compiling a list of books and web resources for everyone to use for further study.

Jeff's blog is so going on that list!!

The Bible Christian said...

Fascinating story and all for the glory of God, and Phil you just might have convinced meet to read his tweets.

The Bible Christian said...

convinced me- Sorry

Phil Johnson said...


Over the years there have been many solid Christians among the astronauts. Remember James Irwin? He was nearly as well-known for his ministry after NASA as for his exploits in space.

Patrick Forrester, who just returned from space, is a committed Christian (and Baptist deacon). So is Barry Wilmore, who is scheduled for his first launch in the Space Shuttle in early November. I've met Barry, and he has a great testimony.

David Zook said...

Excellent post ... very refreshing and compelling. I do hope Jeff keeps a journal up there so that he can blog it down here.

Jon said...

Silly wabbits... Christians can't be scientists...

Wait... wha?!

Jon said...

I will say this post really encouraged me that there are some very inspiring Christian men and women for the world to see. Definitely salt and light to the world.

At the same time, I find that I'm a lazy bum beyond comparison. Very discouraging, but I realize it is self-inflicted. I'm pretty sure Jeff didn't waste his youth watching too much TV or movies or playing video games. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere. Gotta go and watch some football... oh wait... DOH!

Stefan Ewing said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful story. Very, very, very cool. Just...wow. We need to be encouraged by the witness of trailblazing evangelists and missionaries; we also need stories of trailblazing brothers like this. Very inspiring and encouraging.

And frankly, I needed this today—this very evening, in fact—just as I needed Psalm 73 last week, and Spurgeon's sermon yesterday. I needed to be reminded of Job 38 ("Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?"), but also Psalm 8:

When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the Son of Man that you care for Him? Yet You have made Him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned Him with glory and honor. You have given Him dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.... (Psalm 8:3-6)


On a somewhat lighter note, in addition to Phil's list, there's also Buzz Aldrin, who as a Presbyterian elder, privately held Communion while on the Moon. And the crew of Apollo 8, who read Genesis 1:1-10 on live television, on Christmas Eve 1968, while orbiting around the Moon; though sadly, none of the latter three appear to be believers.


And my verification word is "refirm." Praise the Lord!

Call to Die said...

Mr Johnson:

I'm pretty sure that Kazakhstan doesn't really exist- it's just a country they made up for that movie "Borat."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that. That is really, really cool.

Gilbert said...

Will NASA TV/online telecast carry this live? If they do, you could be on TV, too!

Marcus Pittman said...

This is so awesome. I am a huge space buff and have said if I were president that I would increase the budget of NASA more then any president in history because it is the only branch of Government that routinely proves the existence of God. (Whether they want to or not)

But I can't help to wonder why with all of NASA's political bureaucracy they would allow a Christian into space?! Do they know?

This does bring up some good questions...

Does he perform any science experiments on board the station and how does he draw conclusions from a creationist worldview when NASA expects millions of years be the pressup for all the data?

Is Jeff outspoken publicly about his views on Genesis and Creation?

Is he a creationist?

I don't bring these questions up judge Jeff at all. Just wondering how God was able to shield NASA's eyes...

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Jeff is doing an awesome book with Concordia Publishing House and it will be out when he returns from his next mission. He is a great guy and a brother in Christ.