PIB Curtain Raiser : Sunita Williams in Mumbai
As a little girl, Sunita Williams wanted to become a veterinarian. After graduating (US connotation) from the Needham High School in Needham, Massachusetts, she ended up at the US Naval Academy. One day, when she was told that she and the other cadets would be watching a movie about seals, her interest in animals resurfaced. But, little did she know that she was about to watch a movie about US Navy SEALs – the Sea, Air and Land Commando unit, which has now become a household name.
Today, space is the second home for this American Astronaut of Indian Origin. Cdr. Sunita Williams holds the record for the longest spacewalk by a female astronaut at 50 hours, 40 minutes, involving seven space missions. She has spent a record 322 days in space and is the second most experienced woman astronaut in America. She holds the record for longest space flight (195 days) among women space travelers. Given a chance, she is ever ready to don the space suit and take off yet again.
Sunita Williams, the second woman of Indian origin to have been selected by NASA for a space mission after Kalpana Chawla, has a unique family background. Her father, Deepak Pandya, hailing from Mehsana near Ahmedabad, is a well known neuro-scientist, while her mother is of Slovenian origin. Sunita was born in Euclid, Ohio, and was a champion swimmer and a sprinter during her school days.
Sunita received her commission as an ensign in the US Navy from the United States Naval Academy in May 1987. She went on to become a helicopter pilot eventually going to Test Pilot School and earning her master’s degree in engineering management. In September 1992, she was the Officer-in-Charge of an H-46 detachment sent to Miami, Florida, for Hurricane Andrew relief operations aboard the USS Sylvania. She also made overseas deployments to the Mediterranean, Red Sea and the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Provide Comfort. She has logged over 3,000 flight hours in more than 30 aircraft types.
In 1998, Sunita was selected by NASA for astronaut candidate training, and since then she has been working on the space station project. Her Astronaut training included orientation briefings and tours, numerous scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in space shuttle and International Space Station systems, physiological training, as well as learning water and wilderness survival techniques.
Sunita says preparing for space is quite a challenging task. Since the International Space Station is a collaborative venture, one needs to be well versed about the basic systems of the American side as well as the Russian side. She says every space mission is different, as different science projects have to be done. “It is challenging, but it is pretty fun” she says.
Williams was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) with STS-116, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, on December 9, 2006 to join the Expedition 14 crew. She performed her first extra-vehicular activity on the eighth day of the STS-116 mission. On January 31, February 4, and February 9, 2007, she completed three spacewalks from the ISS with Michael López- Alegría. Williams served as a mission specialist and returned to Earth on June 22, 2007, at the end of the STS-117 mission.
Williams, once again launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 15, 2012 as part of Expedition 32/33. She was accompanied by Russian Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Flight Engineer Akihiko Hoshide.
Williams served as commander of the ISS during her stay onboard ISS Expedition 33, being only the second woman to do so. She spent four months conducting research and exploration aboard the orbiting laboratory before landing safely in Kazakhstan on November 18, 2012, after spending 127 days in space.
Having done two long duration space missions, Sunita Williams has pretty much seen the whole of India from space. Now, on a trip to her country of origin, she is very enthusiastic about meeting people in different cities, interacting with them and sharing her views and experiences.
Tomorrow, (April 4, 2013) Sunita Williams will deliver a guest lecture at the National Science Centre Auditorium, Worli at 10 a.m. and interact with about 200 school children from Mumbai.
Already a hit with media in Delhi and Kolkata, Sunita will also hold an informal interaction with media persons in Mumbai at 11 a.m.