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PM joins Indians in congratulating astronaut Sunita

india Updated: Jun 23, 2007 20:49 IST
IANS
Sunita Williams

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday joined millions of Indians in congratulating Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams on her safe and successful return to earth after spending a record 195 days in space.

"The prime minister is pleased to note that Sunita Williams came back safely after a successful space mission. He has wished her good health," Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi told reporters in New Delhi.

"The prime minister, on his personal behalf and on behalf of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, has congratulated Sunita," Dasmunsi told reporters in the Parliament house.

Earlier in the day, from the national capital to several small towns, a large number of Indians felt a sense of relief and pride as Williams returned home safely after 195 days in space.

The space shuttle Atlantis with Williams on board landed at 1.19 am Indian time on Saturday at Edwards Air Force Base in the US after completing a 14-day journey of more than 9.3 million kms.

Across India, many people had been praying for her after Atlantis failed to land on Thursday and Friday due to bad weather.

"It is a great relief. She is a hero and we welcome her back on earth," said a jubilant Rahul Samant, a Jaipur resident.

"I was monitoring television and the NASA website till she landed. I was a little frustrated when her first attempt to land could not materialise. But finally god listened to our prayers," said Sandip Rawat of New Delhi.

Williams joined NASA as a navy experimental test pilot and flew helicopters in the 1991 Gulf war. In a pre-flight NASA interview she had said that her Indian heritage is a source of pride for her and others. "I am half Indian," she had said proudly.

After the space shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base, her family members were seen dancing in joy and hugging each other. "I just want to hug her. Job well done," said an emotional Deepak Pandya, Sunita's father.

In India, she was the only subject of discussion for the last three days at the Tagore Bal Niketan School in Karnal, Haryana.

Students of the school, which was deceased Indian American astronaut Kalpana Chawla's alma mater, had offered special prayers for Sunita's safe return.

"We were closely watching the developments since Thursday night. After Sunita's landing was deferred by a day, we conducted a special prayer for her," said Rajan Lamba, the school principal.

"It is great to hear that she has landed safely. My students and I were very emotional about the whole expedition and are a relieved lot today," Lamba added.

Students of Meerut University and schools in Ahmedabad - where her father hails from - and Jalandhar also celebrated Sunita's return. People also prayed for "sister Sunita" in Bhopal.

US space agency NASA has planned a public welcoming ceremony for Sunita Williams and the six others who went up to fetch her from the International Space Station on space shuttle Atlantis.