Sunita Williams was on born September 19, 1965. She is a United States Naval officer and a NASA astronaut. She was assigned to the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 14 and then joined Expedition 15. She holds the record of the longest spaceflight (195 days) for female space travelers. She was selected to appear on the Colbert Report to announce the name for Node 3 of the ISS.
She was born in Euclid, Ohio to Dr. Deepak Pandya and Bonnie Pandya. Her parents now reside in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Deepak Pandya is a famous neuroanatomist. Williams' roots on her father's side go back to Gujarat in India and she has been to India to visit her father's family. She is also of Slovene descent from her mother's side.
Williams is married to Michael Williams. The two have been married for more than 20 years, and both flew helicopters in the early days of their careers. Her recreational interests include running, swimming, biking, triathlons, windsurfing, snowboarding and bow hunting. She is an avid Boston Red Sox fan. She has a pet Jack Russell Terrier named Gorby.
Sunita Williams attended Needham High School in Needham, Massachusetts, graduating in 1983. She went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical science from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1987, and a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management from Florida Institute of Technology in 1995.
Williams received her commission as an ensign in the US Navy from the US Naval Academy in May 1987. She was designated a Naval Aviator in 1989, and graduated from the Naval Test Pilot School in 1993.
Selected by NASA in June 1998, Williams began her training in August 1998. Her Astronaut Candidate training included orientation briefings and tours, numerous scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in Shuttle and International Space Station systems, physiological training and ground school to prepare for T-38 flight training, as well as learning water and wilderness survival techniques. She surpassed Kathryn Thornton, who had three spacewalks, as the woman with the most spacewalks. Peggy Whitson later surpassed her for woman with the most spacewalks. Following a period of training and evaluation, Williams worked in Moscow with the Russian Space Agency on the Russian contribution to the ISS, and with the first expedition crew sent to the ISS. Following the return of Expedition 1, Williams worked within the Robotics branch on the ISS Robotic Arm and the related Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator. She was a crew member on the NEEMO 2 mission, living underwater in the Aquarius habitat for nine days in May 2002.
As of April 2008, Williams serves as NASA's Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office. She is currently assigned as a backup crew member for Expedition 30 to the International Space Station in 2011 and will be the Commander of Expedition 32, a six-month mission scheduled to begin in the spring of 2012. Like many astronauts, Williams is a licensed amateur radio operator, having passed the technician class license exam in 2001, and was issued the call sign KD5PLB by the Federal Communications Commission on August 13, 2001. She used one of the two amateur radio stations aboard the ISS when she talked with schoolchildren.
Williams was launched to the International Space Station with STS-116, aboard the shuttle Discovery, on December 9, 2006 to join the Expedition 14 crew. In April 2007, the Russian members of the crew rotated, changing to Expedition 15.
Among the personal items Williams took with her to the International Space Station (ISS) were a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a small figurine of Ganesha and some samosas.
Expeditions 14 and 15
After launching aboard Discovery, Williams arranged to donate her pony tail to Locks of Love. The haircut by fellow astronaut Joan Higginbotham occurred aboard the International Space Station and the ponytail was brought back to earth with the STS-116 crew.
Williams performed her first extra-vehicular activity on the eighth day of the STS-116 mission. On January 31, February 4, and February 9, 2007, she completed three spacewalks from the ISS with Michael Lopez-Alegria. During one of these walks a camera became untethered, probably due to failure of the attaching device, and floated off to space, before Williams could react.
On the third spacewalk, Williams was outside the station for 6 hours 40 minutes to complete three space walks in nine days. She has logged 29 hours and 17 minutes in four space walks, eclipsing the record held by Kathryn C. Thornton for most spacewalk time by a woman. On December 18, 2007, during the fourth spacewalk of Expedition 16, Peggy Whitson surpassed Williams, with a cumulative EVA time of 32 hours, 36 minutes.
In early March 2007 she received a tube of wasabi in a Progress spacecraft re-supply mission in response to her request for more spicy food. Opening the tube, which was packaged at one atmospheric pressure, the gel-like paste was forced out in the lower-pressure of the ISS. In the free-fall environment, the spicy geyser was difficult to contain.
On April 16, 2007, she ran the first marathon by an astronaut in orbit. Williams finished the 2007 Boston Marathon in four hours and 24 minutes. The other crew members reportedly cheered her on and gave her oranges during the race. Williams' sister, Dina Pandya, and fellow astronaut Karen L. Nyberg ran the marathon on Earth, and Williams received updates on their progress from Mission Control. In 2008, Williams participated in the Boston Marathon again, this time on Earth. That same year, on the game show Duel, a question was made from that event. The answers were: London, New York, International Space Station, and Paris. The most correct was the ISS.
Following the decision on April 26, 2007 to bring Williams back to earth on the STS-117 mission aboard Atlantis, she did not break the U.S. single spaceflight record that was recently broken by former crewmember Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria. However she did break the record for longest single spaceflight by a woman.
Williams served as a mission specialist with STS-117, and returned to Earth on June 22, 2007 at the end of the STS-117 mission. Space shuttle Atlantis touched down at the Edwards Air Force Base in California at 3:49 a.m. EDT, returning Williams home after a record 195-day stay in space.
Mission managers had to divert Atlantis to Edwards in the Mojave Desert as poor weather at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral forced mission managers to skip three landing attempts there over the last 24 hours. “Welcome back, congratulations on a great mission,” NASA mission control told Williams and the six other members of the crew soon after the shuttle landed.
After the landing, 41-year-old Sunita was chosen as "Person of the Week" by the ABC Television Network. In December, the network noted, she had her long hair cut so she could donate her locks to help those who lost their hair while fighting an illness.
2007 visit to India
In September 2007, Sunita Williams visited India. She went to the Sabarmati Ashram, the ashram set up by Mahatma Gandhi in 1915, and her ancestral village Jhulasan in Gujarat. She was awarded the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Vishwa Pratibha Award by the World Gujarati Society, the first person of Indian origin who is not an Indian citizen to be presented the award. She also visited her cousin's home on her nephew's birthday. On October 4, 2007, Williams spoke at the American Embassy School, and then met Indian President Pratibha Patil at Rashtrapati Bhavan.