Watching 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets on Earth in a span of 24 hours while on a NASA space shuttle mission, remains one of the most vivid memories for former astronaut Joan Higginbotham of her 2006 space trip.
“I plastered my face against the window and just watched the world go by, that was one of my favourite pastimes,” she said speaking at the Nehru Centre auditorium packed with school children on Friday.
“The other (memorable memory) was being spun around by my crew members, in the zero gravity of the space shuttle,” added Higginbotham, 45, who is among an elite group of less than 500 people to have made the out-of-this-world journey.
Higginbotham was in Mumbai to help promote the Mission Apollo programme that aims to inspire and nurture school children through adventure camps and leadership sessions.
Higginbotham is the third African American woman to have been on a space mission, and was with Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams on her 2006 trip. “Sunny was a great role model and it was my pleasure to serve with her,” she said adding that it was she who cut off Williams’ ponytail that was donated to a charity programme, Locks of Love, in 2006.
On Friday morning, she addressed a gathering of nearly 1000 students from a 103 schools with a video presentation on her 13 days on the shuttle, STS-116 Discovery and then took questions from a wide-eyed audience bubbling with curiosity.
“I felt very heavy, like an elephant dragging my feet when I walked once I got off the shuttle, because I hadn’t used my legs for 13 days,” she said, in response to a question about her first sensations after she returned to Earth. “In space I felt like Hercules, being able to just push heavy weights and have them move.”
The seven-member crew on STS-116 Discovery worked on continuing the construction of the International Space Station outpost, a research facility in space where crews conduct different experiments.