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Levity about gravity

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams is in India currently and scheduled to be in Mumbai tomorrow for two days. With that in mind, and levity the prime reason, here is a look at some tripe about space travel. Meanwhile, this reporter is wondering why you keep reading these inanities, even when you are forewarned. Wondering about that and many other things like...


US astronaut of Indian-Slovenian origin Sunita Williams gestures during an interaction with schoolchildren at the National Science Centre in New Delhi yesterday. Williams holds the world record for total cumulative space walk time by a female astronaut and has spent a total of 322 days in space on two missions. Pic/AFP

>> Whether actress Moon Moon Sen would get a discount on a trip to the moon?
>> Whether Gujaratis would carry their theplas into space when space tourism comes here in a big way? And would they fly around trying to catch them, if the theplas float away into space.
>> Whether astronauts eat Mars bars when in space? Or, do they prefer Galaxy chocolates?
>> Whether you know it is astronaut in US and cosmonaut in Russia and they both mean the same?
>> Why Sun brand umbrellas cannot set up a shop on the solar system?
>> Whether James Bond would quaff his martinis on the moon and still like them shaken not stirred?
>> Whether the Sun winks at a planet and says rakishly - ‘well, solar so good, baby’.
>> Whether Sunita Williams would consider orbiting around Mumbai in her very own space ship as a novel way to beat the traffic?
>> Whether each planet would have a different visa? Or, would they come together and issue a single visa: like some European countries that come under the umbrella of Schengen visa?
>> Where would the consulate to go into space be? Would the visa officer ask aspiring tourists questions like: why do you want to go to space? Any relatives in space? Any marriage plans? And look at their bank balance sternly?
>> If one settles down illegally in space, one would be known as an illegal alien? Or an illegal earthling?
>> Would the Lonely Planet guidebook series include travelling to another planet?
>> Would fashion designers start designing clothing for space and call their fashion line: Prada on Pluto, Versace on Venus and Jean Paul Gaultier on Jupiter?
>> Whether our Bollywood movie writers would pen lyrics to a song, Dabbang style to be sung and danced in space with astronauts doing Salman Khan moves: ‘NASA mein baithe on duty; bajaaye Pandeyji ceetee…’ or they would prefer to stick to the trademark Michael Jackson moonwalk?
>> Whether one can smooch in space or zero gravity is too strong, keeping people apart just so that it is more miss than kiss and Karan Johar can make a film on the phenomenon called Smooch, Smooch Nahin Hota Hai?
>> Whether Sunita Williams eats her eggs Suni side up?
>> Whether Mumbai’s tycoons - the Tatas, the Ambanis, the Wadias, the Birlas and many others - would own space ships, not just personal jets, one of these days? And would they ever listen to the public and send the politicians who borrow their space ships like they borrow their jets, on a one way trip to the moon?
>> Why latex manufacturers do not make condoms -- especially for astronauts and market them with the catch line: for an out of the world experience.
>> Why dear reader, in one of the unfathomable mysteries on earth, are you reading this tripe, anyway?

‘Good luck Mumbai, I wish I were there’
Recalling a conversation with Sunita Williams on the eve of the 2010 Mumbai Marathon

In 2010, just as butterflies had settled into stomachs of amateur runners going to do the 42-km course of the Mumbai Marathon held on January 17 that year, Sunita Williams, a marathon runner herself, spoke to this paper from her NASA office in Texas, USA. She spoke over telephone telling all aspiring runners: “You can do it, go for it, Mumbai.”


Run of the treadmill

Sunita is a marathon runner herself, the only difference between her and all these earthlings is that when she cannot run on earth, she runs in space. In April 2007, Sunita, or Suni as her NASA colleagues call her affectionately, ran the Boston Marathon while orbiting Earth aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

She laughs as she speaks on telephone from NASA, “You know I had qualified for the Boston Marathon by posting a good time in Houston in 2006 - a time of three hours, 29 minutes and 57 seconds. It is difficult to qualify for the Boston Marathon. When I did, I was happy but I then I asked myself, how would I run it as I was at the International Space Station, so the only option was to run it in space on a treadmill which I did.”

Sunita’s bib number was 14,000, which Williams taped to the front of her treadmill, for the marathon in space. She said, “I ran the marathon harnessed to the ISS treadmill, the harness is necessary to keep one in place in zero gravity conditions as concurrently, the Boston Marathon was being run on earth.” Sunita finished in a time of 4 hours and 24 minutes.

Sunita says, “Besides the one in space, I have done 10 marathons in all, all on earth (she laughs) in Florida, Texas and Washington DC.” Sunita ran her first marathon, “As a High School Senior, just before I went to college. I grew up on the Boston route. I remember going out on the Boston Marathon route as a supporter. Then, once I decided to actually run the marathon.

My mom drove me to the starting line of the race.” Sunita said, “My family - dad, mom, brother and sister - have always been athletic. I was actually a swimmer earlier; I used to run only for fun. Now, I am into fitness and sport and think it is a great way to live life. Even now, I take my dog and go out for a run regularly, I also go to the gym.”

The astronaut who had said at that time, “If all goes well, I hope to go back in space in 2012, actually, knock on wood about that” did not know too much about the Mumbai Marathon but her running curiosity was stoked when told about the growing stature of the event.

“Do you have hills on the course?” she asked and clucked sympathetically, when told there were at least two steep gradients the full marathoners would have to negotiate on the course. She says, “You know, like all marathoners, I too hit a wall some time in the race.

Usually, this comes at the three-hour mark when one is exhausted. Like many marathoners I ask myself, what the heck am I doing here? Then, motivated once again thinking to myself, oh boy, look at all those people running, I pick up the pace again. When I was very young I used to think oh well, it is easy to run marathons. Today, I am older and wiser.”

While Sunita said the marathon is about mind over matter and does call on reserves of mental strength she cautioned, “One must train well for the marathon or there is a chance of getting hurt. But, yes, people must know that a full marathon is within the realms of human possibility.” She signed off, “I say good luck to all of you. Do the best that you can. I wish I was there with you all.”

Suni, they call her

>> Sunita Williams was born in Euclid, Ohio, USA. Her father, Deepak Pandya, has his ancestral origins in Gujarat while her mother Bonnie hails from Slovenia.
>> Sunita holds a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management from Florida Institute of Technology.
>> Sunita was awarded the Padma Bhushan in the Science and Engineering category in 2008.
>> In 2006, she went on her first expedition to space as part of the Expedition 14 crew. She established a world record for women with four space walks totalling 29 hours and 17 minutes. In 2008, another astronaut, Peggy Whitson, broke her record with five space walks. Sunita flew to space for the second time in 2012 and performed three space walks, thereby reclaiming her record. With 50 hours 40 minutes, she also holds the record total cumulative space walk time by a female astronaut.
>> Sunita is a licensed amateur radio operator since 2001.
>> In 2006, Sunita donated her hair to Locks of Love, a non-profit organisation that uses real hair to make wigs for children who have lost their hair due to a medical condition.
>> Williams has spent a total of 322 days in space on two missions.
>> In 2007, she became the first person to run a marathon in orbit. Williams finished the 2007 Boston Marathon in four hours and 24 minutes. The next year, she participated in the Boston Marathon again, this time on Earth.
>> In 2012, she became the first person to do a triathlon in space. She used the equipment on the International Space Station to finish the Nautica Malibu Triathlon (held in California, USA) in 1:48:33.  

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