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Being like a bird and a fish and eating tomato soup

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Tête-À-tête: Scientists, students and journalists participating in a video conference with astronaut Sunita Williams at the American Center in New Delhi on Friday.
Tête-À-tête: Scientists, students and journalists participating in a video conference with astronaut Sunita Williams at the American Center in New Delhi on Friday.

Mandira Nayar

NEW DELHI: J. K. Rowling’s characters may have had the benefit of broomsticks and magic to get them to fly, but American-Indian astronaut Sunita Williams -- who returned to earth less than a month ago after her long stint in space -- had only old fashioned science to get her around.

Used to “flying around” at the space station, Ms. Williams at a video-conference with students, scientists and scribes here in the Capital on Friday described it as “quite normal”.

“Water does wonderful things in space. You can catch food in the air. Nothing ever spills,” she said, adding that it was a bit like being a bird and a fish. Offering a piece of advice for future space travellers, she said: “Eat tomato soup.”

“I ate some tomato soup…it was good advice as it wasn’t chunky when it came out,” she said, taking about the ride when the rocket turned into a spacecraft.

Having made history as the first woman to have spent the longest time in space, Ms. Williams may have become an icon for women making it big in a male-dominated world, but she didn’t seem too keen to acquire that mantle. “I was a helicopter pilot in the Navy before. It was a more male-dominated field....the limit is in your mind than anywhere else,” she said.

With her “desi” links being proudly claimed by Indians, Ms. Williams has managed to strike a chord with millions of people across the country who have avidly tracked her stint in space and her journey back home. Asked what she felt about the public response from India even though she is American, she said: “I consider it an honour. I grew up in an American-Indian home. I have cousins in India and we’re in touch,” she said.

She also thanked the people in Gujarat -- the State her father comes from -- for their prayers for her safe-homecoming. “I am honoured … India picked on my background and identified with it,” she said. While she may have flown over India many times, she is all set to make her first visit in person later this year for an international conference. “We’re working on the plans,” she added.

Asked who she missed the most in space, Ms. Williams said: “Everyone knows I missed my dog a lot. But my husband is my best friend and it was good to see him,” she said. “He would kill me if I said my dog!” she quipped, when the scribe asked who she missed more.

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