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Sunita asks Indians to dare to dream

Indian American astronaut Sunita "Suni" Williams wants the people of her ancestral land to dream like her.

india Updated: Dec 16, 2006 12:11 IST

Indian American astronaut Sunita "Suni" Williams wants the people of her ancestral land to dare to dream like her for "if you believe in it, it will come true".

"It's a great opportunity," said the second person of Indian origin to go into space in a press conference from her new home in space along with the rest of the crew of the international space station and space shuttle discovery.

"At the moment it's bit crowded, but I am told it's a nice place to live," said Williams, dressed in a red tee shirt and blue trousers with her loose hair flowing uncontrollably upwards in the zero gravity of the space station.

German astronaut Thomas Reiter, who is returning to earth on December 18 aboard Discovery after a five-month tour of duty, has told her "all the ins and outs of how things work up here," said the daughter of an Indian doctor and a Yugoslav mother.

"He is a great help," added Williams, a commander in the US navy, who will serve as a flight engineer on the space station until March 2007 when her replacement comes on the next Discovery mission.

Williams, who is set to take her first space walk onSaturday with mission Specialist Robert Curbeam said, "I am sure it's going to be nice." The duo will complete the rewiring of the station power systems during the spacewalk slated to begin at 1.07 amon Sunday.

The 10 shuttle and station crew members took a break from mundane cargo transfers and gathered on Friday afternoon in the US Destiny Laboratory to field questions live from international media at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) headquartersin Washingtonand other space centres in US and Europe.

Discovery Commander Mark Polansky answered a question about commanding a mission with five first-time space travellers. "It has been pretty fantastic," he said. "They are just doing great."

The crews enjoyed a few hours of light duty before wrapping up the day with preparations for Saturday's spacewalk. The preparations include a review of the timeline and the overnight campout in the Quest airlock.

Astronaut Christer Fuglesang, the first from his native Sweden to fly in space, took advantage of the zero-gravity to attempt a world record for the longest frisbee toss. "I might need a few trials, because sometimes it's hard to get it to stay," said Fuglesang, gently blowing on the disc to keep it spinning.

Meanwhile, flight controllers conducted several types of tests in their efforts to find a way to fold the partially retracted 110-foot (33-meter) solar array on the Port 6 truss. During the overnight hours, they commanded the array through a series of "wiggle" tests, swivelling the wing 10 degrees at a time repeatedly to see if that would help the situation.

Then at about 11.30 pm onFriday, they collected data on array movement while Reiter exercised on station equipment. Flight controllers continue to analyse the problem and may ask for more tests later.

The panel was retracted enough to allow new solar arrays to rotate and track the sun for power. But NASA needs the whole span folded up into a storage box so the array can be moved to a new position next year and returned to service.

If the wing panel studded with delicate solar cells cannot be fixed by remote control, NASA is considering adding a fourth space walk to Discovery crew's job list.

The array is one of two that provided power to the US sections of the station until astronauts rewired the station to draw power from a new set of arrays installed during the last shuttle flight in September.

Discovery's homecoming is scheduled for December 21 at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. It is the fourth shuttle mission since Columbia broke apart in 2003, killing the seven astronauts aboard including India born Kalpana Chawla and grounding the shuttle fleet for more than two years.

Two shuttle flights in 2005 and earlier this year tested safety upgrades and a third, in September, restarted construction of the $100 billion space station.

First Published: Dec 16, 2006 10:11 IST