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Florida Tech Alumna Tapped for First Mission on Boeing Starliner

NASA Veteran Suni Williams Earned
Engineering Management Degree in ’95

MELBOURNE, FLA. — Sunita L. Williams, who earned a master’s degree in engineering management from Florida Institute of Technology, has been selected to fly on the first long-duration space mission aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, NASA announced Friday.

Along with astronaut Josh Cassada, Williams will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to the International Space Station on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Their mission will follow a crewed test flight on the Starliner, featuring three different astronauts, scheduled to launch in mid-2019, according to NASA. An uncrewed flight is scheduled for late 2018 or early 2019.

Williams, who joined NASA in 1998, spent 322 days in space on two shuttle missions. Cassada has never taken a spaceflight. He has 3,500 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft as a Navy commander and test pilot.

A successor to the 30-year-long space shuttle program, the commercial crew program seeks to send astronauts to deep space on privately built spacecraft.

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.

In addition to her nearly year-long stint in space over those 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 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 said.

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.”

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