For Sunita Williams, her mane flying and a gold chain floating just below her mike, India is beautiful and as colourful from space as it is on the ground, especially “the green of the fields and the reds of the mountains”.
And how was it being in the International Space Station, where she docked for a six-month stay on December 11? “Floating around is unbelievable,” she said giddily to an audience here comprising of students from around India and retired astronaut Rakesh Sharma. “I feel like Mary Poppins, as you get to fly everywhere.”
Sunita, the second woman of Indian heritage to go into Space, interacted with the audience gathered at the United States Information Service centre here for just 10 minutes over a hook-up facilitated by NASA. But it was an exciting 10 minutes, not just for the audience, but also for Sunita, dressed in a T-shirt as azure as the sky below her, as she smilingly bounced in slow motion throughout the session.
She was accompanied by Spanish astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who caught a drop of his liquid food on his fingertip and quickly put it into his mouth, much to the delight of the audience back on Earth.
Sunita was asked whether, in these times of terrorism, whether Space provided an avenue for peace. “Absolutely,” she replied. “From here the world looks like a beautiful place where people live peacefully. The space station, in which 16 countries are involved, is an example of how we can all work together peacefully.”
She felt India should determinedly push ahead with its programmes for manned space travel. “It is a great way to look at Earth and the galaxy, and provide for further explorations to the Moon and to Mars,” she said. “It can give further insights on how to save the planet for future generations.”
She said she had flown over India a number of times. “Sometimes from the West, over Afghanistan and Pakistan, sometimes from the East, and a number of times from the South, coming up over Goa and Mumbai,” she said.
Before she spoke, Rakesh Sharma talked of the problems he faced that she would also. The almost non-existent gravity made his spine expand during his eight-day mission in 1984, for which he practiced yoga in space (antriksh asana, perhaps). “I don’t know how they managed to cut her flying hair,” he joked.