Sunita Williams’ “Hindustani Dil”
Indian American Sunita “Suni” Williams will pilot Boeing’s Starliner on its first crewed mission to the International Space Station, according to NASA.
The mission will be led by Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore, who had previously been assigned to the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission.
Williams has been in training as commander of the Starliner’s first operational mission. This will be her third long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station.
She has spent a total of 322 days in space on two missions; she ranks second on the all-time U.S. endurance list for females, according to her NASA profile. With 50 hours and 40 minutes, she is second on the list of total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut.
Unlike the first piloted test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft in 2020, which lasted 64 days, the CFT mission will be limited to about two weeks “based upon current space station resources and scheduling needs,” NASA said. It may set a target date around the end of July after the test flight reviews are complete.
Williams was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 1998 and is a veteran of two space missions. Following training and evaluation, Williams worked in Moscow with the Russian Space Agency on the Russian contribution to the space station and with the first Expedition Crew.
Upon the return of Expedition 1, she worked within the robotics branch on the station’s Robotic Arm and the follow-on Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator. As a NEEMO2 crew member, she lived underwater in the Aquarius habitat for nine days.
After her first flight, she served as deputy chief of the Astronaut Office. She then supported a long-duration mission as Flight Engineer for Expedition 32 and International Space Station Commander for Expedition 33.
Sunita Williams was born on September 19, 1965 in Ohio. Her father hails from Mehsana district in Gujarat. Her maternal great-grandmother, born in Slovenia, immigrated to America as an 11-year-old with her mother.
She completed her studies at Needham High School in Massachusetts in 1983, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Science from the United States Naval Academy and holds a Master’s degree in Engineering Management. She was inducted into the U.S. Navy in 1987. She was appointed as the basic diving officer after six months of temporary assignment. In 1998, Sunita Williams began training for space travel.
Sunita is immensely proud of her Indian connection. She had carried “Bhagavad Gita”, idol of Lord Ganesha and Samosa with her during her space journey.
Once on the eve of India’s Independence Day, August 15, she had displayed the Tricolour on board the International Space Station. “I wish India a very happy Independence Day for August 15… India is a wonderful country and I am very proud to be a part of India,” she had said in her message.
She later told an interviewer, “ Of course, you know that I am half Indian. My father is from Gujarat. So, I am familiar with the culture and customs of India. I am so proud to be a part of this [Independence Day] celebration,” Sunita said, displaying India’s national flag.
In fact, on the occasion of India’s 75th Independence Day last year, Sunita had said, “NASA and ISRO have cooperated in many different areas, including Earth and space science. Additionally, NASA has provided deep space communication and navigation support for ISRO’s missions to the Moon and Mars”.
In fact, she had praised ISRO and said that she is interested in the Gaganyaan mission–India’s first human spaceflight mission. “Exploring space is a global enterprise where we all need to work together. I am especially interested in following the progress of Gaganyaan,” she said.