U.S. Navy veteran and helicopter pilot Sunita Williams soon should resume pushing the boundaries of vertical flight, if NASA's plans hold. The space agency has selected her as one of four astronauts to work with Boeing
and SpaceX to develop and flight test commercial launch vehicles for carrying crews to low Earth orbit (between roughly 100 and 1,200 miles up) later this decade from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. If successful, the program would end U.S. dependence on Russian launchers to reach the International Space Station and conduct other low-orbit missions. A 1987 Naval Academy grad, Williams served as Boeing
CH-46 driver. The Naval Test Pilot School graduate (and former instructor) also has time in the Bell Helicopter
AH-1W, OH-58, TH-57, UH-1 and AH-1W; the Hughes OH-6; the Kaman SH-2; and the Sikorsky Aircraft
CH-53, SH-60B/F and VH-3. She served as an H-46 project officer with the Navy’s Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Directorate as an H-46 Project and aircraft handler and assistant air boss on the amphibious assault ship USS Saipan. Williams flew two missions to the space station, in 2006-07 and 2012. She also holds the record for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut (50 hours, 40 minutes).