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Friday May 24, 2024
Face Time:
Sunita Williams
Vol: 1 Num: 3    Summer 2006
Astronaut Sunita Williams on her upcoming voyage to International Space Station.

She would be another American astronaut of Indian origin when she would journey to the International Space Station in fall 2006. It would be NASAís 14th expedition to the station and her maiden space voyage. For the six month mission Sunita Williams will serve as a flight engineer. We recently spoke to her.

How did a helicopter pilot get to become an astronaut? Lot of people sort of chuckled, saying only jet pilots become astronaut. I am stubborn and persistence. I thought, well, what the heck I should try. On a field trip to Johnson Space Center, John Young, who went to moon twice, was telling us that he had to learn to fly helicopter to do lunar landings. So I had positive reinforcement that if you are a helicopter pilot then you have the skills needed for the astronaut program.

What you will be doing in the space station? My main job during the space shuttle would be doing the robotics. During the flight that takes me up there we will be doing a major power reconfiguration in the space. We would be doing a whole lot of experiments on the body and some new equipment - a new method to detect potential presence of bacteria, growing soybeans in a centrifuge. We ourselves are experiment and would be doing two hours of physical fitness.

Will you be doing any special projects there? What I would love to do is some kind of physical fitness, cardio-vascular type of experiment to help understand what happens with physical fitness in space and microgravity environment. I would like to get a school challenged to have kids workout with me. They can understand why exercise is very important for them on the ground too. This is one of the initiatives I am working on right now.

Do you plan to do any tests on your long hair in space? Unfortunately, I will cut it. Not because itís a rule but itís the right thing to do. When stuff floats around in the space station it clogs up filters and gets in the way of cleanliness and the environment control system. So the smartest thing to do is to cut the hair.

What books or food are you planning to take with you? I am not exactly sure what books we can take as it is more paper up there. So we might take books on CD. My father and I were talking about taking the Gita. One of my favorite books, which I think I will take, is called the Life of Pi. My fatherís favorite book is Odyssey, so I will also take that. If I can smuggle in some samosas then I will try to do that.

Your father is Hindu and mother is Christian. How was it growing up in an inter-faith home? I think I was very lucky. I used to go to church all the time with my mom and dad. My dad and I would always be there sitting there together and he would bring his Gita and read it to me. As a child it did not confuse me. It gave me a greater understanding that the religious is sort of all the same thing, just the different version for different parts of the worlds. That is how I understood as a child. As I grown older I think thatís really quite accurate.

How was it living under water for nine days? It was an absolutely amazing experience. How often do you get to live under water? Not just go down and come back but just actually live there. My biggest impression is that under water is not our home as humans but it is a home of the fish. Whatever they were doing - may be hunting for food. It was spectacular. Absolutely amazing!

How did Kalpana Chawlaís accident affect you? It made me very reflective about what is really important in life - its family, friends, being nice to people. If by chance something happens and I donít get to fly in the space then thatís ok. If I could just be a part of this program then that is most important.

Who is your role model? There is no way I could be like him but the person I would like to emulate would be Mahatma Gandhi. More realistically, I think the person for me is Beryl Markham. She was an amazing early woman flyer. She was a bush pilot in Africa and ended up flying across the Atlantic Ocean just like Lindbergh but in the opposite way.

What you love being a woman of Indian origin? I think I have a freedom to dress with a lot of color. Somebody asked me what is my favorite thing about India and I think it is the colors. Every time you see people in Indian clothes it makes you smile because the colors are so amazing.



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