Monday, October 8, 2007

The Lady in the Blue Jumpsuit

"We are not powerless specks of dust drifting around in the wind, blown by random destiny. We are, each of us, like beautiful snowflakes - unique, and born for a specific reason and purpose." These words by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross aptly metaphor the essence of Sunita Williams, the NASA astronaut who has made mankind proud by her achievements. She has become a youth icon to say the least, moreover a perennial source of inspiration for our generation. I am feeling highly elated and fortunate to have attended an interactive session by her, yesterday at Indian Institute of Technology - Bombay.

A keynote interactive session was arranged by the Aerospace Department as a part of their ongoing festival "Zephyr '07". After eagerly standing in a long queue for about an hour, finally it was the moment to see Ms. Williams live in person. My excitement knew no bounds and shortly she was right there, before our eyes waving and approaching the centre-stage. This 'lady in the blue jumpsuit' - a term I coined after her trademark blue NASA jumpsuit - got a standing ovation from a packed audience of about 3000. The claps resonated the convocation hall and looked like they would never cease. The enthralled audience (many of which were school children) finally took their seats and waited for Sunita Williams to address them. Ms. Williams begin her session desribing her 195-day spaceflight as her 'Summer Vacation'. She shared her experiences with the help of a video clip from inside the Internation Space Station. We watched, spellbound and agape, as she went about describing her daily chores, eating, drinking, exercising and conducting vital scientific experiments in a zero-gravity environment! It was surely and literally an 'out-of-the-world' summer vacation! She also emphasized on the role of the space station and the various experiments carried out there, much of them oriented towards getting to know the behaviour of living things in a non-terrestrial environment. "This" she said, "would help mankind to find other possible options for human habitation, like the moon!"

She also described her vivid memories of seeing the earth from up there. “From space you realise how beautiful our planet looks with all its mountains, crevices, valleys and streams and you can't see any borders from up there. All kinds of borders - national, caste, creed, gender, etc - exist only on papers and in your mind!", she exclaimed, with an underlying message of a holistic approach that we should not restrict our identity as a citizen of a particular country, but as a citizen of the Earth.

Then the interactive session kicked off, with the school kids dominating the session with their curiosities about the space and Ms. Williams. The organizers had a busy time running about the hall, trying their best to get as many people to ask questions. Ms. Williams gave comprehensive answers to queries ranging from her thoughts on global warming, space tourism to that of encountering any aliens! When asked about her source of inspiration, she replied that firstly it was her parents and then Mahatma Gandhi.

Time flew quickly, and soon it was time to bid farewell to her. A roaring applause showered affection and good luck for her future endeavours - the least we could do for a befitting role model. I came out of the hall with a happy heart, wishing these inspiring memories would forever remain undiffused in my mind and heart. I had just been with one of the beautiful snowflakes in that quotation by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross!

Sunita Williams - A Factfile

Commander - US Navy

NASA Astronaut

Records As a female Astronaut
» Longest Spaceflight (195 days)
» Number of Spacewalks (4)
» Cumulative time of spacewalks (29 hrs 17 min)

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