Indian-Origin Astronaut Sunita Williams Getting Ready for Historic Fly Into Space Again
Indian-Origin Astronaut Sunita Williams Getting Ready for Historic Fly Into Space Again

New Delhi: Indian-origin astronaut Captain Sunita Williams, famous for enjoying samosas in space, is gearing up for another cosmic journey, this time aboard the Boeing Starliner spacecraft. The launch is scheduled from the Kennedy Space Center on May 7, 2024, at 8.04 am India time. Despite feeling a bit nervous, Williams expresses confidence in flying in the new spacecraft. During training at the launch pad, she expressed her anticipation, likening her arrival at the International Space Station to a homecoming.

Born to Dr. Deepak Pandya and Bonnie Pandya, the 59-year-old Williams is poised to make history as the first woman to fly on a maiden mission of a new human-rated spacecraft. With her background as a qualified navy test pilot, Williams previously flew to space in 2006 and 2012, accumulating a total of 322 days in space.

Williams, known for her record-breaking spacewalks totaling 50 hours and 40 minutes across seven excursions, once held the title for the most spacewalk time by a female astronaut. However, Peggy Whitson has since surpassed this record with 10 spacewalks.

Having roots in Jhulasan, Mehsana District, Gujarat, Williams's father, a neuroanatomist, migrated to the USA, where he married Bonnie Pandya, of Slovenian descent. Presently, Williams is preparing to pilot the Crew Flight Test mission aboard Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, marking her third mission to the International Space Station. She was selected as an astronaut in 1998 and later chosen for NASA's commercial crew program after the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2015.

Prior to her upcoming flight, Williams shared her plan to carry a statue of Lord Ganesh, considering it her good luck charm. She described herself as more spiritual than religious and expressed joy at having Lord Ganesh accompany her into outer space. In past missions, she carried copies of the Bhagavad Gita and indulged in her love for samosas. Beyond space exploration, Williams is an avid marathon runner, having even completed a marathon while aboard the ISS.

India's own human spaceflight program, Gaganyaan, is also in progress, with ISRO's Human Space Flight Center in Bengaluru expressing pride in Williams's achievements. The Gaganyaan crew, comprising four male astronauts, is slated to embark on their mission around 2026.

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, selected by NASA alongside SpaceX for ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station, faces its maiden crewed flight after several delays. Williams will be joined by 61-year-old Astronaut Barry Eugene "Butch" Wilmore, launching on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. After spending approximately a week at the space station, the crew capsule will make a parachute and airbag-assisted landing in the southwestern United States.

Notably, Williams named the spacecraft "Calypso" after Jacques-Yves Cousteau's famous ship, showcasing her admiration for ocean exploration. Additionally, she has a school named after her in Needham, USA, and hopes to interact with students from aboard the space station.

Boeing describes the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as designed for missions to low-Earth orbit, accommodating up to seven passengers or a mix of crew and cargo. Williams anticipates a packed schedule of flying routines during her mission to test and certify the new spacecraft. With Lord Ganesh by her side, she remains optimistic about the journey ahead.

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