Astronaut Sunita Williams to students, stay home to be a part of something bigger than yourself

indica News Bureau-

The Embassy of India Student Hub hosted a dialogue with NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams to discuss isolation in space, social distancing, Women in STEM, and her career as an astronaut.

Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams compared the international Indian student experience during COVID-19 to being in space in a spacecraft “where you don’t get to go see your family and friends and give them a real hug,” in a Live Session organized by the Embassy of India Student Hub on Friday, 1 May 2020.

Williams drew on her 322-days of orbiting in space to encourage a move from “I” to “We” and added, “Isolation also provides a time to reflect and think about…how you can be a productive, active, positive addition to society.”

The Live Session with Sunita Williams was the latest in a series of initiatives by the Embassy of India Student Hub, Washington D.C., to support nearly 200,000 Indian students during the pandemic. Over 84,000 people watched the session on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in the first 24 hours. H.E. Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Ambassador of India to the US, tweeted, “A view from the stars! Thank you Sunita Williams @Astro_Suni for sharing your experiences from Space and inspiring our students. Excellent initiative by India Student Hub  @IndianEmbassyUS.”

Williams joined the Live Session virtually from her kitchen in Houston, where she is in training for another human spaceflight in 2021. To the graduates of the Class of 2020, Williams stated that the COVID-19 crisis was making them stronger as it was teaching them to “push through and finish what is important.”

2020 graduate and India Student Hub organizer Cherie Singh said, “Suni (Williams) has been my inspiration since I was in school. She gave me the impetus to follow my fascination with aircraft and spacecraft and take up Aerospace Engineering in undergrad. I was really glad to have a dialogue with a global icon!”

Other students expressed similar sentiments. Arshiah Yusuf Mirza said, “It was brilliant to get the perspective of an astronaut who experienced social isolation from the whole mankind! I also realized she’s a regular person like all of us – that we don’t have to become a ‘superhuman’ in one day to be a part of one of mankind’s greatest achievements.”

Williams stated how everyone could achieve something significant right now. “Even just staying home and being responsible and not infecting others or getting infected gives you the opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than yourself,” she added.

The event was supported and publicized by Education USA centers in different countries, the Department of State agencies, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, American Center New Delhi, and several international students and scholars services offices at universities across the US.

Roopal Shah, Education Advisor to the Embassy of India, Washington D.C., thanked NASA for their support in helping to organize the event. Student leaders from the India Student Hub had reached out to NASA to request an appearance by Sunita Williams earlier that month.

The India Student Hub is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between student leaders and the Embassy of India, Washington D.C. It works to supports the nearly 200,000 Indian students studying in the US and encourage them to be leaders of tomorrow. The India Student Hub has a team of over 60 Campus Leads in major universities in the US. To assist students during the COVID-19 crisis, the India Student Hub has set up a Peer Support Line and started a number of student morale-boosting and leadership initiatives.

Sunita L. Williams (Suni) was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 1998 and is a veteran of two space missions Expeditions 14/15 and 32/33. She is currently training for the first post-certification mission of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft – the second crewed flight for that vehicle – and her third long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station. Williams and her crewmates are working closely with Boeing to develop their new spacecraft systems, which will provide roundtrip crew transportation services to the International Space Station and, along with SpaceX’s CrewDragon, return the ability to launch humans into space from United States soil.  Williams first traveled to the International Space Station in 2006. She took a box of samosas, the Bhagavad Gita and an idol of Lord Ganesha to ‘keep her grounded’ and help her ‘feel closer to home’.

‘A view from the stars! Thank you Sunita Williams @Astro_Suni for sharing your experiences from Space and inspiring our students. Excellent initiative by India Student Hub @IndianEmbassyUS,’ Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu said in a tweet.