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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Astronaut: shuttle liftoff was a blast

NEEDHAM

sunita3.jpg

Williams before the launch
(NASA Photo)

In an email from outer space to her family, astronaut Sunita Williams described the blastoff of the space shuttle this weekend as, well, an uplifting experience.

The launch “was surely a great eight minutes for us. We were screaming with joy,” Williams said in an excerpt provided by Williams' sister, Dina Pandya, of Falmouth.

Williams began the email, "Hi, I'm floating. It's awesome."

Williams, 41, made her first flight to space on Saturday aboard the Shuttle Discovery. The Needham High School grad will live aboard the International Space Station for six months. She will help rewire the space station’s power source and participate in a fitness and nutritional study in a zero gravity environment.

Pandya, 44, watched her little sister take off from the Banana Creek viewing station at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Pandya said she went for one last stroll with Williams last Wednesday, the day before the shuttle originally was scheduled to launch. Pandya, Williams and their parents, Bonnie and Deepak Pandya walked on the beach. Williams’ dog, Gorby, romped at their heels.

They took care of some last-minute family business – making sure that all of Williams’ friends who came to the launch received a gift bag and that Dina Pandya remembered to sign Williams up for the Boston Marathon.

The Pandyas also gave their space-bound daughter some Red Sox memorabilia to take with her to space.

When low cloud cover over Cape Canaveral delayed the launch, Pandya said she hoped she would get to see her sister one more time. She tried to arrange a jog with Williams, but the NASA crew took the delay as an opportunity for more training.

NASA officials also had the 7-member crew on a different sleep schedule, making it even tougher for the sisters to get together, said Pandya. Williams was told to stay up until 3 a.m. and wake up at 11 a.m.

But they talked on the phone frequently. During their final phone conversation, Pandya said she told Williams, “I love you. I know you’re going to do great.”

Pandya said Williams replied, “I’m going to make you proud. Thanks for sharing in the adventure.”

-- Lauren K. Meade

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