Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams, on a week-long visit to Gujarat, on Saturday advised students to study space science for the exciting opportunities it offers and light-heartedly challenged them to break the space walk records she created this year.
Speaking at a felicitation programme in her honour by Gujarat University, Sunita said space science was increasingly concerned with making the earth safe from the "effects of vacuum, a darkness that is beyond black and the massive temperature deviations in space".
The research on how to protect planet earth from such effects could possibly be conducted from the Moon and even Mars, she told a large gathering of university students.
"This means many opportunities for all of you in space research. Take it as a challenge. Break my records and take my place," she said to a resounding applause from the audience.
Sunita, whose father hails from Gujarat, arrived in Ahmedabad on Thursday morning. There have been a series of felicitations for the astronaut who created new records earlier this year in space walk by a woman and longest stay in space.
Before the felicitation, Williams, sporting a blue space suit, interacted with the first batch of students of the postgraduate course in space science, a discipline introduced by the university recently.
Chief Minister Narendra Modi who presided over the function invited her to come to Gujarat frequently and inspire students in different universities in the state to study space science so that they could participate in space research.
He said the state government was ready to organise such visits.
Modi recalled Sunita's remarks during her visit to Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad on Thursday that there were no borders in the universe when viewed from outer space.
"Our saints and sages have defined the borderless universe concept as Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the whole world is a family). The Rig Veda and Indian astronomers have given the world the entire framework of space research. Modern science is now accepting what they had outlined millenniums ago," the chief minister held.
Modi repeatedly sought to remove the impression that the state was not keen on honouring Sunita for her achievements during the six-month space odyssey by the space shuttle Discovery.
There had been speculation in political circles that Modi may avoid honouring the astronaut as her cousin, slain home minister Haren Pandya, used to be his archrival.
Modi said he was in touch with Sunita's father Deepak Pandya about her Gujarat visit.
State Education minister Anandi Patel presented a shawl to Sunita and said she had emerged as a role model not only for Gujarat but also for the whole of India.
Gujarat University vice-chancellor Parimal Trivedi lauded the astronaut's achievements and said Sunita was an epitome of the "inner strength of women".
"Sunita Williams has conquered both time and space. Your presence on the campus will inspire students, who find a role model in you, to achieve great heights in their careers."