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VOA Online Discussion: Working in Outer Space

Guest: Sunita Williams, NASA Astronaut and US Navy Commander
Date: 18 July 07
Moderator: Erin Brummett

Thanks to Sunita for joining us for our second chat! On 18 July 07, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams who recently returned to Earth after the longest space voyage ever by a woman was our guest. 

About Sunita Williamsarrow left


Erin: Hello and welcome to T2A webchat for July 18th. We’re meeting record-setting U.S. Space Agency Astronaut Sunita “Suni” Williams. Suni holds several records for female space travelers: longest spaceflight, most number of space walks and total time spent on spacewalks. Commander Williams is the second woman of Indian heritage and the second astronaut of Slovenian heritage to be chosen for a NASA space mission. Suni is answering a number of questions sent in advance to chat@voanews.com. You can still send email questions to this address – and of course we’re looking for your LIVE chat questions! Suni, let’s get started right away since your time is limited.

Marcien Fossuo from Cameroon: After your long stay on orbit, how do you feel once back on earth?
Sunita: It's a little bit of a ride coming home. I was laying in a reclining seat, good for long space rides so I don't have to hold my head up...others around me had a hard time keeping their heads up. I felt good on landing, but when standing up my legs were shaking not used to holding my body up. I walked okay but the fluid in my ears was not balanced so I felt dizzy nauseous and a little sick. This lasted for a couple of days. Effects on inner ear balance take a little while to get back. I know I looked a little white and my hair was flat and not think and fluffy like it was in zero gravity.

Fredrick Odidi in Yobe, Nigeria: How do you feel being the second female astronaut to travel to space?
Sunita: I'm the second from India but many women before me went to space. I was the third woman to live on the space station for an extended period of time. There are more men than women in this field. I lived with two men while up there. It's as though you had two brothers, living with them in the same room for the whole time. Surprisingly they were very neat. Seriously though, I guess it's a male-dominated job in the past but my answer to those who worry about this whether it's a hindrance -- in my previous life as a helicopter pilot, the helicopter does not know the difference. The skills for men and women are the same for the most part.

Pami Dua in New Delhi: In what ways did your Indian upbringing contribute towards your success?
Sunita: My father grew up in India and came to the United States in his mid-20's leaving his family and friends in India to start a new life. His brother was already in the United States. But when I compare what I have done in my professional life without having to leave your home country, it pales in comparison. Those brave enough to take this kind of a risk -- when I was growing up I thought what my father did was much braver than what I've done. It's sort of like comparing this to the explorers of the past who left the comforts of their home country and tried something new.

Marco in Brazil: Do you have any different view about human beings when you look at earth from outer space and do you have a message on how we can preserve our planet?
Sunita: Two impressions stick out...you don't see country borders when you look at continents from space. Another astronaut told me once it looks so beautiful and peaceful, it's hard to imagine that humans down there would be arguing not to mention fighting. This is very true. Also when you look at the earth and see how thin our atmosphere is, this thin blue, gold, orange, red line depending on how the sun hits it, how it's protecting the earth from the viciousness of space. It makes you just want to protect it. So you have it right, it definitely changes your perspective about human beings on earth and our perspective. It raises your awareness.

Eduardo Campos: How do you feel out in space ?
Sunita: Launching into space only takes eight-and-a-half minutes from being on the ground, quick like a roller coaster ride. I felt great at first, laughing and floating around. But I was floating really fast inside the space shuttle and I think my inner ear got really mixed up at that point in time for about 24 hours. In my journal I wrote I ate tomato soup before launch and I'm glad it was soft because it came right back up. The human body's amazing. After 24 hours I was fully adjusted to being in space. We're pretty clumsy at first, [because] you push off something and get going without holding onto anything, but that goes away probably in about a week or so and you start to see people start gliding, coasting, flying with just a finger touch on a piece of surface. Somewhere around the four month mark I forgot what it was like to walk. Pretty wild.

Bela Chawla: You were in the space station for six months. What was the concept of day and night out there and can you see day and night from outer space?
Sunita: Absolutely you can see day and night from outer space...altitude over 200 miles speed more than 17-thousand miles per hour so we were able to see 16 sunrises and sunsets in a 24 hour period. We used Greenwich Mean Time so we set our clocks and closed shutters on the windows so we didn't get sun during our sleep time -- our 'night' time. An interesting side effect which lasted about a week was I really got tired when we started going down to earth because we were not getting a gradual sunrise and gradual sunset.

Amrit Rai from Kathmandu Nepal: You are an example for the women of the world. What lessons do you think women of developing countries can learn from your success?
Sunita: What I say to women in America would be, all the opportunities are out there and if anyone's limiting you, it's yourself but this does not apply to people throughout the world because we have different cultures. I think the point here is there is not that big of a difference between what men and women can accomplish -- it's in the minds of you and the people around you. Physically you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

Rohini Gambhir from New Delhi: If God told you that He could grant one wish to you, what would you want to ask for?
Sunita: I think I would want everybody to go to space and see how beautiful our earth is and we would have similar impressions of how it's hard to imagine people not living peacefully together -- how much we need to protect the planet.

George Spiteri from Worcestershire, Great Britain: When you returned from space I heard that the first thing you wanted was a pizza. I understand other US astronauts also say they want pizza on returning from space. Why is this? Is this coincidence or is it something about pizza?
Sunita: (Laughing out loud) I think maybe it's difficult to mix food up in space. You have something like a casserole like sweet and sour pork -- it's something gooey, so having a toasted piece of bread with cheese, a universal comfort food and a toping of your choice, it's something we don't have a lot of in space -- like bread. Food up in space is a little bland so spices are another reason. (laughing out loud again)

Hio Tiao Lim from Philippines: Once International space station is operational, will women be able to give birth there?
Sunita: Medical issues are still a bit of a mystery for us in a micro gravity environment. We don't know how things would develop in outer space, considering the potentially high amount of radiation, microgravity effect on muscle mass. This still is a very difficult question and we need a lot more research before that would be allowed to happen.

Erin: Do you have a final message?
Sunita: I never thought I would be or could be an astronaut growing up. I did okay in school but not great. I made mistakes along the way. But learning from those mistakes make you a little smarter in life. So don't be afraid to make mistakes if you learn from them and continue having big dreams because they can come true.
Erin: Sunita needs to go so this wraps our chat with U.S. astronaut Sunita Williams, Commander U.S. Navy. Please feel free to send more questions for Sunita and we'll try to make sure she can answer them. And if you had any difficulty joining today's chat, you can go to our webpage and provide your comment on our 'contact us' form. Join us next Wednesday, July 25th at 18 hours universal time when we meet U.S. immigration expert Gloria Roa Bodin. She'll help navigate the country's immigration and visa system. Just go to voanews.com and click on the T2A logo. Or you can send advance questions to chat@voanews.com The first 30 visitors to send advance questions will receive copies of Gloria's book on immigration. Bye for now...