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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

Sunita Williams achieves yet another milestone in space

The Indian American astronaut completes Boston Marathon on an ISS treadmill.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2007 13:41 IST
Seema Hakhu Kachru
Seema Hakhu Kachru

Indian American Astronaut Sunita Williams achieved yet another milestone by being 210 miles above earth and circling it at least twice, running as fast as eight mph but flying more than five miles each second, as she completed the Boston Marathon on an International Space station treadmill.

Her unofficial completion time was four hours and 24 minutes as she completed the race at 2:24 pm EDT. Sunita, 41, an accomplished marathoner, attempted something no other astronaut has ever done.

She is now the first astronaut in space to have run a marathon while in orbit.

And, Sunita hopes her unique run will serve as an inspiration. "I encourage kids to start making physical fitness part of their daily lives," Sunita said.

"I think a big goal like a marathon will help get this message out there."

Sunita started the race on time at 10 am EDT with race No 14,000 taped to the front of the treadmill. She had placed two laptop computers on either side of the treadmill and was closely watching a live feed of the race from Boston and keep track of where the ISS was flying.

Wearing Boston Red Sox socks under her navy shirt and shorts, Sunita woke up several hours earlier than her crew mates because of the marathon.

Also at the space station were U.S. Astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Tyurin, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov and space tourist Charles Simonyi.

Unlike her 24,000 drenched and wet Boston counterparts on Earth, which included her sister Dina Pandya, Sunita ran under better weather conditions.

Runners in Boston had to face chilly weather, 48 degrees and some rain, mist and wind gusts of 28 mph while station weather was 78 degrees with no wind or rain with 50 per cent humidity.

For this she had all praise for the treadmill, she helped her in accomplishing her goal without throwing any tantrums. "No problems. No flaws. No nothing, It did everything I wanted it to do," Sunita said.

Earlier Boston Athletic Association had issued Williams bib number 14,000. The bib had been sent electronically to NASA, which had forwarded it to Williams.

She's a Needham, Mass., native and says her reason for running the marathon is simple. Regular exercise is essential to maintaining bone density while in space for astronauts.

"In microgravity, both of these things start to go away because we don't use our legs to walk around and don't need the bones and muscles to hold us up under the force of gravity," Sunita said.

No one knows that better than Steve Hart. For two years, he's been Sunita's flight surgeon. "There are specific challenges to staying healthy while in space. Sunita wants to make fitness the hallmark of her expedition stay. She wants to educate and motivate others about being physically fit in gene ral."

Sunita has been training for the marathon for months while serving a six-month stint as a flight engineer on board the ISS. She runs at least four times a week, 2 longer runs and 2 shorter runs.

Sunita qualified for the marathon when she ran a 3:29:57 in the Houston Marathon last year. Her biggest challenge running in space will be staying harnessed to a specially designed treadmill with bungee cords.

Sunita says running on the TVIS which stands for Treadmill Vibration Isolation System can sometimes be uncomfortable.

The machinery puts a strain on the runner's hips and shoulders. Mitzi Laughlin is an Astronaut Strength, Conditioning and Rehabilitation coach at Johnson Space Center.

She has been involved in planning Sunita's rigorous exercise routine for a year and a half. "We've done a lot more TVIS work than we would normally prescribe for any astronaut. Suni has a superb fitness level. She is dedicated and perhaps one of our best runners."

Sunita enjoys a huge support network on earth. Besides her sister, she had two close friends participating in the race, fellow NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and long-time friend Ronnie Harris.

Race organizers say this was their first satellite venture, and they are thrilled about it. "Suni running 26.2 miles in space on Patriots' Day is really a tribute to the thousands of marathoners who are running here on Earth.

She is pioneering new frontiers in the running world," said Jack Fleming, Boston Athletic Association.

First Published: Apr 17, 2007 13:26 IST