Sunita Pandya Lyn Williams (born September 19, 1965) is an American astronaut and United States Navy officer of Indo-Slovenian descent.She formerly held the records for total spacewalks by a woman (seven) and most spacewalk time for a woman (50 hours, 40 minutes). Williams was assigned to the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 14 and Expedition 15. In 2012, she served as a flight engineer on Expedition 32 and then commander of Expedition 33.
Williams began her Astronaut Candidate training at the Johnson Space Center in August 1998.
Williams was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) with STS-116, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, on December 9, 2006, to join the Expedition 14 crew. In April 2007, the Russian members of the crew rotated, changing to Expedition 15 .
Expeditions 14 and 15
Williams became the first person to run a marathon from the space station on April 16, 2007
After launching aboard the Shuttle Discovery, Williams arranged to donate her pony tail to Locks of Love. Fellow astronaut Joan Higginbotham cut her hair aboard the International Space Station and the ponytail was brought back to Earth by the STS-116 crew. Williams performed her first extra-vehicular activity on the eighth day of the STS-116 mission. On January 31, February 4, and February 9, 2007, she completed three spacewalks from the ISS with Michael López-Alegría. During one of these walks, a camera became untethered, probably because the attaching device failed, and floated off to space before Williams could react.
Astronauts Joan Higginbotham and Sunita Williams work the controls of the Canadarm2 in the International Space Station’s Destiny laboratory
On the third spacewalk, Williams was outside the station for 6 hours and 40 minutes to complete three spacewalks in nine days. She has logged 29 hours and 17 minutes in four spacewalks, eclipsing the record held by Kathryn C. Thornton for most spacewalk time by a woman. On December 18, 2007, during the fourth spacewalk of Expedition 16, Peggy Whitson surpassed Williams, with a cumulative EVA time of 32 hours, 36 minutes. In early March 2007, she received a tube of wasabi in a Progress spacecraft resupply mission in response to her request for more spicy food. When she opened the tube, which was packaged at one atmospheric pressure, the gel-like paste was forced out in the lower pressure of the ISS. In the free-fall environment, the spicy geyser was difficult to contain.
On April 26, 2007, NASA decided to bring Williams back to Earth on the STS-117 mission aboard Atlantis. She did not break the U.S. single spaceflight record that was recently broken by former crew member Commander Michael López-Alegría, but did break the record for longest single spaceflight by a woman. Williams served as a mission specialist and returned to Earth on June 22, 2007, at the end of the STS-117 mission. Poor weather at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral forced mission managers to skip three landing attempts there over previous 24 hours. They then diverted Atlantis to Edwards Air Force Base in California, where the shuttle touched down at 3:49 p.m. EDT, returning Williams home after a record 192-day stay in space.
First marathon in space
On April 16, 2007, she ran the first marathon by any person in space. Williams was listed as an entrant for the 2007 Boston Marathon, and completed the distance in four hours and 24 minutes. The other crew members cheered her on and gave her oranges during the race. Williams’ sister, Dina Pandya, and fellow astronaut Karen L. Nyberg ran the marathon on Earth, and Williams received updates on their progress from Mission Control. In 2008, Williams participated in the Boston Marathon again.
Expeditions 32 and 33
Williams exercises on COLBERT during ISS Expedition 32
Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, appears to touch the bright sun during a spacewalk conducted on September 5, 2012.
Williams was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 15, 2012, as part of Expedition 32/33. Her Russian spacecraft Soyuz TMA-05M docked with the ISS for a four-month stay at the orbiting outpost on July 17, 2012. The docking of the Soyuz occurred at 4:51 GMT as the ISS flew over Kazakhstan at an altitude of 252 miles. The hatchway between the Soyuz spacecraft and the ISS was opened at 7:23 GMT and Williams floated into the ISS to begin her duties as a member of the Expedition 32 crew. She was accompanied on the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Aki Hoshide and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. Williams served as the commander of the ISS during her stay onboard ISS Expedition 33, succeeding Gennady Padalka. She became the commander of the International Space Station on September 17, 2012, being only the second woman to achieve the feat. Also in September 2012, she became the first person to do a triathlon in space, which coincided with the Nautica Malibu Triathlon held in Southern California. She used the International Space Station’s own treadmill and stationary bike, and for the swimming portion of the race, she used the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) to do weightlifting and resistance exercises that approximate swimming in microgravity. After swimming half a mile (0.8 km), biking 18 miles (29 km), and running 4 miles (6.4 km), Williams finished with a time of one hour, 48 minutes and 33 seconds, as she reported.
She returned to earth with fellow astronauts Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide on November 19, 2012, touching down in the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan. Helicopters joined the search-and-recovery crew to assist them, as their capsule parachuted down some 35 kilometres (22 mi) from the planned touchdown site due to a procedural delay.
As of August 2012, Williams has made seven spacewalks totaling 50 hours and 40 minutes, putting Williams ninth on the list of most experienced spacewalkers. On August 30, 2012, Williams and JAXA astronaut Hoshide ventured outside the ISS to conduct US EVA-18. They removed and replaced the failing Main Bus Switching Unit-1 (MBSU-1), and installed a thermal cover onto Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 (PMA-2).
Commercial Crew program
In July 2015, NASA announced Williams as one of the first astronauts for U.S. Commercial spaceflights. Subsequently, she has started working with Boeing and SpaceX to train in their commercial crew vehicles, along with other chosen astronauts. In August 2018 she was assigned to the first mission flight, CTS-1, to the International Space Station of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner.
She was a member of Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
Williams is married to Michael J. Williams, a Federal police officer in Oregon. The two have been married for more than 20 years, and both flew helicopters in the early days of their careers. They reside together in suburban Houston, Texas. She had a pet Jack Russell Terrier named Gorby who was featured with her on the Dog Whisperer television show on the National Geographic Channel on November 12, 2010. In 2012, Williams expressed a desire to adopt a girl from Ahmedabad.
In September 2007, Williams visited India. She went to the Sabarmati Ashram and her ancestral village Jhulasan in Gujarat. She was awarded the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Vishwa Pratibha Award by the World Gujarati Society, the first person of Indian descent who was not an Indian citizen to be presented the award. On October 4, 2007, Williams spoke at the American Embassy School, and then met Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister of India.