Sunita Williams meets Manmohan Singh, school students


New Delhi : Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams Monday said she was overwhelmed with the love and affection she had received in India and the interest of young Indians in aeronautics and space exploration. She also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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Accompanied by her father Deepak Pandya, Williams called on the prime minister and his wife in the afternoon.

She also met Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal and a host of school students. India announced special scholarships named after her for space studies.

Manmohan Singh told Williams that India was “truly proud of her achievements” and that she was a “source of inspiration for all our young people”.

According to a Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) statement, Manmohan Singh announced that the “Government of India will finance 10 scholarships, five for girls and five for boys, to promote the study of outer space. These scholarships will be called the Sunita Williams Scholarships for Higher Education in Space (SWISHES).”

He said Minister Kapil Sibal would announce the details of the scholarships.

Williams, who is in India since Sep 20, arrived in Delhi Saturday after a red carpet welcome in Gujarat and applause at the International Astronautical Congress in Hyderabad.

She has made a world record among women astronauts by staying in space for 195 days.

In the forenoon, the 42-year-old astronaut interacted with around 150 students from 33 schools of the national capital region. Williams has been interacting with students in Gujarat, Hyderabad and Delhi, and has been encouraging them to do well in space science.

Interacting with school students at the American Center in the capital, Williams Monday said: “There is a lot to know and explore about the universe. Now you should dream of going to the moon, Mars and into space. I want to see your smiling faces from the moon.”

The astronaut, who was dressed in a blue jump suit, hair band and brown shoes, encouraged students to take up careers in science.

“You will get a lot of opportunities but don’t show your back to it.”

“I was not a good student in school, and college life was difficult. However, every one has to bring something different to the table and prove it.”

She showed videos of her time at the International Space Station (ISS) – how she brushed her teeth, combed hair, ate her food, did her exercise and swam around.

“In space you have to run after your food to catch it. Everything is floating. Food and daily life events were a real fun there,” she said showing how she and her colleagues were chasing a dollop of orange juice inside the space station.

Speaking about her health in space and soon after she returned to earth, Williams said: “In the zero gravity condition of space, the spine elongates and in my case I was taller by one inch. We used to work out for two hours every day.

“When I landed on earth, I was feeling happy but due to gravitational force my legs were trembling. I was feeling like throwing up. But after two days of rehabilitation, I was perfectly fine.”