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Would love to be part of Indian team to moon, says Sunita

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heroes meet: Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams with Rakesh Sharma, first Indian to go to space, at the International Astronautical Congress near Hyderabad on Friday.
heroes meet: Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams with Rakesh Sharma, first Indian to go to space, at the International Astronautical Congress near Hyderabad on Friday.

T.S. Subramanian

‘But I would not take that opportunity away from first man or woman from India’

HYDERABAD: Sunita Williams, Indian-American astronaut, would love to be part of the Indian team when an international mission is mounted to go to the moon. “Of course, I would like to be part of it,” she declared, when she was asked whether she would like to be part of the Indian manned mission to the moon. But she politely reminded the newspersons that she was in the U.S. military and that she was a U.S. astronaut.

“I hope that India is planning to go the moon along with international participation. Then I would definitely like to be part of that,” she said, addressing a press conference towards the close of the five-day International Astronautical Congress (IAC) here on Friday. There were “other folks out there, who are looking to go as well. I would not want to take that opportunity away from the first man or woman [from India] who goes into space. I would like to see that from India,” she said.

There were a number of astronauts who wanted to make people understand how, from above in space, the planet earth was “a borderless village and we all can live together.”

When she had to return to the earth, she was “a little saddened that I was leaving space, which was such a wonderful place to work in and live in…You have to adapt to it.”

She would like to be part of the International Space Station (ISS) programme again and be on the Crew Exploration Vehicle (Orion) that the U.S. would build to take astronauts to the moon and Mars. “When I grow up, I would like to be a school teacher,” said 42-year old Sunita Williams.

Asked what it took to be an astronaut, physical endurance or scientific knowledge, Sunita Williams said the 8.5-minute ride on the rocket would get one to micro-gravity. “Your body should be able to adjust to that.” The body should be able to adjust to returning from “a world where you don’t have any gravity” to living in gravity on the earth. “They [physical endurance and scientific knowledge] go hand in hand. Both are important.” When the microphone of one of the panellists malfunctioned and a staff member tried to vault over a platform to hand over another mike but stumbled, she quickly essayed, “See how difficult it is here on earth. It would be a lot more easier in micro-gravity!”

The capillary flow in space was the most interesting experiment performed on the ISS. It had future applications in engine design, fuel tank design and how fuels would move in micro-gravity or zero-gravity on the way to Mars so that there would not be imbalances in the fuel tanks. “It makes us understand the tight tolerances needed for designing the fuel tanks and the dangers of the unknown in an expedition to Mars,” she said. On the persistent problem of foam coming off the fuel tank of the U.S. space shuttles, William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator, Special Operations Mission Directorate, NASA, said the shuttle did not have as many problems as the press made it out to be.

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