When she touched down -- after breaking the record of 188 days and four hours 250 miles for a woman in space -- Sunita Williams had no idea NASA would name a day in her honour.
Those close to the star astronaut though weren't really surprised. For as long as people have known her, 'Suni' has reached for the extraordinary. Spending six months aboard the International Space Station -- even participating in the famous Boston Marathon
April 16 while on it -- is only the latest in a line of achievements that stretches all the way back to her childhood in Massachusetts. From running a marathon barefoot to spacewalking while in orbit, Sunita Pandya is used to being more than the average star performer.
||in her words
'There are a million possibilities out there. For instance, I am half Indian and I've got -- I'm sure -- a group of Indian people who are looking forward to seeing this second person of Indian origin, flying up in space. So it's nice to know that everybody brings along with them a group of people from all over the world that get interested in space.'
Suni received her commission in the United States Navy, May 1987. After a six-month assignment at the Naval Coastal System Command, she received her designation as a Basic Diving Officer before reporting to the Naval Aviation Training Command. She was designated a Naval Aviator in July 1989, made overseas deployments to the Mediterranean, Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, became Officer-in-Charge of an H-46 detachment sent to Miami for Hurricane Andrew relief operations, and eventually began her course at the United States Naval Test Pilot School, January 1993. NASA picked her June 1998, and her astronaut training began soon after.
'I think my life is a little bit more of a happenstance,' Williams has said, alluding to her career. 'I tell children not be afraid of failure because, if you fail, you learn something and it is better for you. Not that my life is full of failure, but it is full of things I potentially didn't always want. But when you do your best at something, somehow it always seems to work out. If you do your best and enjoy what you do, you will do it well.'
She would know. After all, she has pretty much gone ahead and proved it.