Sunita Williams hopes for US-India space collaboration

Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams with students at a function organized by National Council of Science Museums in Kolkata on April 2
Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams with students at a function organized by National Council of Science Museums in Kolkata on April 2

KOLKATA: Hoping that NASA and ISRO will collaborate in the future, US astronaut Sunita Williams has said the Indian government should accelerate its space program as a lot of students and young people are showing interest in the field.
Williams, who holds the record for the longest spacewalk by a female astronaut at 50 hours, 40 minutes, involving seven space missions, said the US and India were developing a positive relationship as far as space was concerned.
“Over the time I had been at the NASA, I had seen that relationship between India and United States going on a much more positive direction, particularly when it comes to space,” Williams, whose father hails from Gujarat’s Mehsana, said.
The first time she had come here she didn’t have permission to go and visit people from the Indian space agency, she said, “And now I see that people from ISRO and NASA are talking together.”
Williams was answering a question on whether there was scope for the two space agencies to work together.
She said India had the capability to do a lot more in space research than launching satellites and added that children here were very inquisitive about the field.
The astronaut was in the city to participate in an interactive session with students and space enthusiasts.
‘Never thought I’d become astronaut’
NEW DELHI: Interacting with students at the National Science Centre here, Sunita Williams said she had never thought about voyaging into space ever.
“I never envisioned to be an astronaut and had many failures, but ultimately I reached here,” said Williams.
So while she has “pretty much seen the whole of India” from space she is excited to explore more of the country which she is visiting five years after she came here last in the year 2007.
“There are places where I need to go. I have not been to south. I would like to go to Himalayas also”, she said.
“My father is from Ahmedabad. So I have seen that part of India. In this trip, I’m excited to see eastern side of India. I have never been there. I have been in space. So I have pretty much seen the whole of India,” said the 47-year-old astronaut.
Born on September 19, 1965 in Euclid, Ohio, her paternal ancestry originates in Gujarat and that of her mother in Slovenia.
On her voyages into space, Williams said she had carried with her a copy each of the Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita to reflect and read.
“I also carried samosas in space during my travel, you can never have enough,” she said talking about her love for Indian food.

Questions on Kalpana Chawla
Students bombarded her with questions on her experiences in space, especially about Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian American astronaut and first Indian woman in space. In 2003, Chawla was one of seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.
Williams said disbelief was her first reaction on hearing about the disaster. “It was a most heart breaking scenario. I wish nobody will experience that in future”, said Williams.
Sunita admitted that she was nervous initially to do a space travel but is now excited to continue with it.
“I was nervous actually. I flew from the space shuttle after what happened in Colombia in 2006 and a couple of years afterwards and there was a lot of work that was to be done to make sure that the space shuttle is all ready to fly again”, recounted Williams.
“Space ride is risky. But the next step of exploration to space is on. Now after that incident we are going through the right phase. We are confident to continue without any problems,” said the astronaut.
Present generation
Talking to reporters Williams said she was impressed with the present generation of children. “I am really happy that I am not really trying to be an astronaut now because there are really some smart kids outside here and United States. Kids have open mind ideas.”
According to Sunita the technology has really been a boon for next generation to get out there and to try out new things.
“I am envious a little bit and wish I was 20 years younger to start my career all over again. The next generation of experts and are all ready to take the challenge,” said Williams.
She gives full credit to her family. “I was lucky to have a husband and family who have been very supportive and my parents were huge role models.”
She said she missed flying the most. “I would love to go back to space again. I will be working in Russia for about a year now. I will be working with the next group of astronauts who will go to space,” said Williams.-PTI

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