Astronaut Sunita Williams arrived here on Thursday to a warm and cheerful welcome, a day after her 42nd birthday was celebrated. Her father Deepak Pandya cut the cake at the residence of Sunita's uncle Vithal Pandya.
The astronaut, who stayed a record 195 days in space, arrived on an Air India flight Thursday morning. This is her second visit to Gujarat; the first was in 1998.
Sunita is scheduled to visit the Gandhi Ashram at Sabarmati at 4 p.m. She will also pay homage at the statue of her cousin Haren Pandya, a former home minister of the state.
On Friday, she will visit Jhulasan, her ancestral village in Mehsana district where the village council is eagerly waiting to give her a grand welcome. Sweets and gifts will be offered to make it a truly emotional homecoming.
The Vishwa Gujarati Samaj has planned to make the visit an event to remember by conferring Sunita Willams with the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Vishwa Pratibha Award on Friday. The annual award instituted in 2001 seeks to bring Gujaratis living worldwide under one umbrella. It carries a cash prize of Rs.250,000, a citation and a memento.
The astronaut is scheduled to attend a whole host of felicitations. The busy schedule may keep Sunita from enjoying the street food of Ahmedabad's walled city that she relished during her last visit.
On Sep 24, she will go to Hyderabad to attend the 58th International Astronautical Congress where she also interact with Indian scientists and share her experience of living in space and space walks.
Williams' visit is organised by the National Federation of Indian-American Associations (NFIAA).