It's the cool "Chanda mama" up in the sky that has inspired American astronaut of Indian descent Sunita Williams to take a career in space sciences.
The brightly shinning moon amidst the twinkling stars has always been a source of inspiration for generations but Sunita, as a child, was so moved by its touching glory that she decided to explore it one day.
Strong will coupled with dedication pushed her on the ladder of success in the highly competitive atmosphere of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where she is a "commander".
Sunita arrived in Hyderabad on Thursday for a two-day visit to this happening city. She will interact with about 2000 students from about 60 schools and hundreds of international delegates at the 58th international astronautical congress on Friday.
She will share with students her experiences in the international space station and how she feels being the first woman astronaut to spend six months in the world of weightlessness, zero-gravity and silence and with no-neighbourhood around.
On her first visit to Hyderabad, which is fast becoming a global hub for scientific and technological research, Sunita seems to be moved by its beauty and grandeur. Amidst tight security she was shifted to Novotel Hotel at HICC in Madhapur where the astronautical congress is being held. From Hyderabad, she looks forward to a manned mission to Mars, which NASA is hopeful of achieving by 2037.
"When I was five years old or so, I saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and thought, ‘wow -- that’s cool.’ I mean, that’s what I would like to do. Subsequent to that, all the TV shows about going to space sort of set a bit, I think, in everybody’s head that, that would be a great career," says Sunita.
Sharing her experiences before and after the space flight, Sunita points out in the NASA website, that she never really thought that she would visit the outer space in her life.
"It seemed too far out there, something that I could never achieve. Really didn’t touch base with me and hit home until I went to Test Pilot School in Maryland. I’m a Navy pilot, helicopter pilot. In one of our field trips, we came down to Johnson Space Centre," she recalls.
Stating that she got the idea of becoming an astronaut when she was bring trained for a helicopter pilot course, she says, "It was me and a couple of other helicopter pilots sitting in the back while all the jet pilots in my Test Pilot School class were all sitting in the front, listening to John Young talk about the shuttle and about flying to the moon. I remember him talking about learning how to fly a helicopter to land the lunar lander. Something just clicked in my head, and I said, ‘wow,’ you know, maybe there’s a use for helicopter pilots, if we’re going to go back to the moon. So, I sort of said to myself, the only one who’s telling me I’m not going to be an astronaut is me. I did the research on what was required, and I got my master’s degree and applied, and, lo and behold, the second application, I got an interview. So, I think I’m very, very lucky".
She describes the international space station as just a stepping-stone to get people understand space, and how to live and work in space, and then potentially get back to the moon is the next stepping-stone.
"How to work in a low-gravity environment and how to work in an environment that is not habitable for us that will take us to the next place, maybe Mars and then beyond," she adds.