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NASA Astronaut to Run Boston Marathon in Space

NASA Astronaut Suni Williams to Run Boston Marathon in Space

Needham native will have earth support running on ground as she does 26.2-miles aboard the International Space Station.

Boston, Mass. – For the first time, a Boston Marathon qualifier will run the race in space. NASA astronaut and Needham, MA, native Sunita (Suni) Williams (41) is planning on running the 26.2 mile race on a treadmill onboard the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, April 16, the same day as the world’s most prestigious marathon: the 111th Boston Marathon.

Williams will be supported on the actual marathon course from Hopkinton to Boston by an Earth Support Unit, headed by her sister Dina Pandya, fellow Naval Academy alumnus Ronnie Harris and up to a dozen of her friends, and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg.

Today, the B.A.A. issued to Williams bib number 14,000, in honor of the Expedition 14 which she is currently executing. Boston Marathon Race Director McGillivray sent the bib electronically to NASA, who will forward it to Williams.

Onboard ISS, more than 200 miles above earth, Williams will be harnessed to a specially designed treadmill with bungee cords. A NASA engineer came up with a treadmill vibration isolation system to lessen the pounding impact on the space station, but this makes for an uncomfortable running experience that pulls on the runner’s hips and shoulders. She has had to slowly work herself up from a couple of miles per run since she arrived at the space station in December, to the marathon distance she is planning on completing in April.

Williams grew up in Needham, MA, and graduated from Needham High School in 1983. Her parents Deepak and Bonnie Pandya reside in Falmouth, MA. Her sister Dina lives in East Falmouth and is employed at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Williams qualified for the 2007 Boston Marathon when she ran a 3:29:57 marathon in Houston, TX in 2006. This is her main motivation for running a marathon in space. “I considered it a huge honor to qualify and I didn’t want my qualification to expire without giving it a shot,” Williams said.
Running a marathon also gives her a goal for the physical activity that is necessary to maintain bone and muscle density while in space. “In microgravity, both of these things start to go away because we don’t use our legs to walk around and don’t need the bones and muscles to hold us up under the force of gravity,” Williams said.

As a member of Expedition 14 and 15, she serves a six-month stint as a flight engineer onboard ISS. She recently set the record for women’s space walking with more than 29 hours in space. Williams is set to return to earth this summer.

Back on earth, Pandya and Harris are planning her support unit which will consist of runners from Delaware, Maryland and Houston, TX. A spectator support group will be within the 14th mile in Wellesley in honor of Williams’ Expedition 14.

Two NASA astronauts, Jeff Williams and Karen Nyberg, will be available during marathon weekend in Boston to help educate the public about the International Space Station and NASA in general. NASA will have a booth at the John Hancock Sports & Fitness Expo at the Hynes Convention Center on Friday, April 13, (noon to 6 p.m.), Saturday, April 14 (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Sunday, April 15 (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

Established in 1887, the Boston Athletic Association is a non-profit organization with a mission of managing athletic events and promoting a healthy lifestyle through sports, especially running. The B.A.A.’s Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon, and the organization manages other local events and supports comprehensive charity, youth, and year-round running programs. Since 1986, the principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon has been John Hancock Financial Services. In 2006, the Boston Marathon launched – along with the Flora London Marathon also in April – the World Marathon Majors Series. Other events in the series are the real,-Berlin-Marathon, The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, and the ING New York City Marathon.

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