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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Indian-Origin Astronaut Sunita Williams Returns to Space Mission

Indian-origin astronaut Captain Sunita Williams, who enjoys eating samosas in orbit, is preparing to journey into space once more, this time on a brand-new spaceship, the Boeing Starliner.

The launch is set for May 7, 2024, at 8.34 8.04 a.m. India time, from the Kennedy Space Centre. She admits she is scared, but she is not concerned about flying in a new spaceship. While practicing on the launch pad, Ms Williams stated, “When I reach the International Space Station, it will be like going back home.”

Born to Dr Deepak Pandya and Bonnie Pandya, the 59-year-old will create history by being the first woman to fly on a maiden mission of a new human-rated spacecraft. A qualified navy test pilot, she has flown twice to space in 2006 and 2012, and according to data from NASA, “Sunita has spent a cumulative total of 322 days in space.”

She previously held the record for the longest spacewalk duration by a female astronaut, having spent 50 hours and 40 minutes on seven spacewalks. According to NASA, Sunita held the record for total cumulative spacewalk duration by a female astronaut while on board with seven spacewalks totaling 50 hours and 40 minutes, but she has since been surpassed by Peggy Whitson, who has ten.

Sunita Williams’s father was a neuroanatomist born in Jhulasan, in Mehsana District, Gujarat, but later migrated to the USA and married Bonnie Pandya, a Slovenian. NASA says she is currently preparing to be the pilot of the Crew Flight Test mission aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft – the first crewed flight for that vehicle – and her third mission aboard the International Space Station. She was selected to be an astronaut in 1998, and after the Space Shuttle was retired in 2015, she was chosen to be part of the select group of astronauts who would fly on NASA’s commercial crew program.

Before her flight, Ms Williams had told NDTV that she will carry a statue of Lord Ganesh with her on the commercial crew flight as “Ganesh is her good luck charm” and that she was more spiritual than religious and was happy to have Lord Ganesh with her in outer space. On her earlier flights, she has carried copies of the Bhagavad Gita to space. She also said she loved samosas! Among her other passions, she is also a marathon runner and ran a marathon while at the ISS.

India has its own human spaceflight program, the Gaganyaan, and the head of ISRO’s Human Space Flight Center in Bengaluru, Dr. M Mohan, told NDTV, “Captain Sunita Williams, a veteran of space missions to the International Space Station, is embarking on another mission on the maiden flight of the Boeing Starliner craft, which makes us all proud. I wish Ms. Williams all success on another milestone journey to space.”

India has selected a crew of four male Gaganyatris, and if all goes well, they may fly into space from Sriharikota in the thereabouts of 2026.

NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing to make new spacecraft that would ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and SpaceX has been doing this since 2020. The Boeing Starliner has had many delays and is now set for the maiden crewed flight on Tuesday morning. Incidentally, Boeing has been facing many issues with its aircrafts and the company has been mired in controversy.

She will be flying alongside 61-year-old Astronaut Barry Eugene “Butch” Wilmore, a navy test pilot who has flown into space twice. Both veterans will be launching on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket to the International Space Station. The astronauts will spend about a week at the orbiting laboratory before the crew capsule makes a parachute and airbag-assisted landing in the southwestern United States of America, says NASA.

Interestingly, Ms Williams was given the opportunity to name the spacecraft she would fly in, and she named it “Calypso” after the famous ship on which the French oceanographer and legendary filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau explored the oceans when she was still a student. She also has a school named after her, the Sunita Williams Elementary School, in the town of Needham in the USA, and if all goes well, she will interact with school children from aboard the space station.

According to Boeing, the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner spacecraft was designed to accommodate seven passengers, or a mix of crew and cargo, for missions to low-Earth orbit. It has been in the making for more than a decade and has had many hiccups.

Sunita Williams says her days will be packed with fun activities (flying routines) as she is flying a mission to test and certify a new spacecraft. She is going to create history as she flies in the maiden mission of the new spacecraft, which has her fingerprints all over as she has been involved in its development along with Boeing and NASA engineers. With Lord Ganesh by her side, things should go well.

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Source: NDTV

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