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Sunita Williams receives Padma Bhushan

July 05, 2008

Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams [Images], who holds the feat of completing the longest space flight for a woman, received the Padma Bhushan -- India's second highest civilian award -- in Houston for her outstanding achievements.

Indian Consul General S M Gavai presented her with the award at a function, which was attended by large number of Indian-Americans.

The award was conferred on Sunita earlier this year, however, due to her preoccupations, she could not turn up to receive it in New Delhi from President Pratibha Patil [Images].

Dressed in a purple kurta and matching pleated printed salwar, she spoke briefly at the gathering and mingled freely with those present.

The astronaut, who was accompanied by her father Deepak Pandya, expressed happiness on the recognition.

"It is a great honour. I am elated," she said. Recounting her experience in space, where she remained for 195 days, Sunita said, "Earth looks beautiful from space as there are no borders on the planet. Sometimes we think we have borders because we are male, female, of different religions or have differently coloured skin. Well you don't, they are just in your mind and they are not real."

"I could see this borderless world only after I went to space, but there are people like Mahatma Gandhi [Images], who could visualise all this even without going to space. Gandhiji's vision of keeping people at peace together is really a cornerstone of humanity," Sunita added.

Sunita achieved the unparalleled feat of completing the longest space flight by a woman after remaining in space for 195 days last year. She is also the only woman and Indian American astronaut after Kalpana Chawla [Images] to go into space.

Photograph: Pal Pillai/AFP/Getty Images

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