She calls India home and is loving every bit of her stay here. Indian-American astronaut and US Navy officer Sunita Williams (47) was at the National Science Centre here on Monday to address schoolchildren.
In an hour-long Q&A session, she talked about her stay in the International Space Station (ISS), her 322 days in space on two missions, her choice of career and childhood memories from India. Excerpts:
Q: We are proud to claim you as our own and are aware that you carried a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a figurine of Ganesha and some samosas in space. What else do you cherish about India?
A: I cherish all childhood memories from India. I came here first as a 10-year-old and this country never fails to amaze me. Yes, I carried a small idol of Ganesha, who has been an important part of my life. I am a spiritual person and taking the Bhagavad Gita, along with a copy of Odyssey, was natural. I am proud of my Indian-American origin. As for Indian food, I can never have enough of it. I'm so happy that I would get to eat to my heart's content (she last visited India in 2007).
Q: Is it difficult for Indian husbands to accept the celebrity status of their wife? How does your husband take it?
A: I am not sure you can tell a husband anything (laughs), but honestly, marriage is all about partnership. I have been blessed with a very supportive family which has always encouraged me to move ahead. My husband has been at my side and has been an immense strength always.
Q: Have you travelled across India?
A: Fortunately, I have been in space and watched the entire country (laughs). On a serious note, I am looking forward to my itinerary as I want to visit south India, especially the east coast. I have been to the Taj Mahal and have planned a trip with my siblings for a trek in the mountains.
Q: You will be visiting Gujarat. What is your opinion of Narendra Modi?
A: I am going to my ancestral house and my tiny brain is only into space stuff. I am not interested in politics.
Q: After the Columbia tragedy in which astronaut Kalpana Chawla died, were you nervous about space missions?
A: No, I have full confidence in NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). After the tragedy, they (NASA) have always been on high alert. Space flights are a calculated risk. I am excited to continue making Kalpana's dream a reality.
Q: Did you see aliens in space?
A: When you are in space, you see light flashes that are just radiations. Sometimes, your mind plays games, but no, we did not encounter any aliens.
Q: What do you miss about space?
A: I miss floating around, never letting my hair down and fixing toilets. On a serious note, living in space is just a small part of your life in retrospective. Everything has its pros and cons.
Q: Do you believe in borders after coming back from space?
A: It is hard to believe that we have borders on our planet. In space, all we see are oceans. I believe that we are all citizens of this universe.
Q: Your thoughts on China's space programme.
A: We are happy for the Chinese and congratulate them for their achievements. We always pray every astronaut on a space mission returns home safely.
Q: What do you think of Indians at NASA?
A: I bump into Indians at NASA all the time. Indians are a very intellectual group of people raring to go and leaving a mark in all fields.