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Sister hopes astronaut will return soon

Posted by Martin Finucane April 11, 2007 06:31 PM

Space Station.jpg

Sunita Williams walks in space in February
(AP Photo/NASA TV)

NEEDHAM

Dina Pandya is hoping her birthday wish will come true on Aug. 1 -- that her sister, astronaut Sunita Williams, will be back on Earth to join in the festivities.

But Pandya is not optimistic.

Williams, a Needham native, may have to stay aboard the International Space Station two months longer than expected. She was supposed to return home in June via the Endeavor after a six-month stay on the orbiting laboratory. The Endeavor is now slated to lift off in August, at the earliest.

Backups in the launch schedule happened after a February hailstorm over the Kennedy Space Center in Florida damaged the engine of another shuttle, the Atlantis.

The damage to the Atlantis, which is now slated to launch between June 8 and July 18, meant a delayed launch for the Endeavor.

“She was alluding to it for a while,” said Pandya, of Falmouth, who chats with her sister in space via a video link. “This is a pretty big change.”

But Pandya is used to her sister’s voyages to faroff places for periods of time that are unpredictable. As a naval aviator, Williams made overseas deployments to the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War.

Her astronaut training has taken her to Russia and the underwater Aquarius habitat.

“Sometimes you have to stay on the ship longer than scheduled,” said Pandya.

Williams has been in the news recently because she plans to run the Boston Marathon -- in space -- on a specially-designed treadmill aboard the space station.

-- Lauren K. Meade

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