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Astronaut may visit Needham school

Posted by Martin Finucane June 19, 2007 02:41 PM

NEEDHAM

After astronaut Sunita Williams recuperates from her six-month stay in zero gravity, some of her young fans in Needham are hoping to welcome the space traveler back to her hometown.

Williams has kept in touch with her former sixth-grade teacher, Angela DiNapoli, now a fifth-grade teacher at the Newman elementary school.

DiNapoli's students chatted with Williams via a satellite link before and during her mission. Now they may get to meet the astronaut in person. Williams is planning to visit the school this fall, said DiNapoli.

The Atlantis shuttle undocked from the international space station at 10:42 a.m. today over the Coral Sea north of Australia.

Atlantis circled the space station so that crew members could gather video and photographs of the recently-expanded solar wings. Williams and the crew are scheduled to land at 1:54 p.m. Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The trip hasn't gone completely smoothly.

Dina Pandya, Williams’s older sister, said she watched NASA TV around the clock last Thursday after the computer system crashed on the Russian side of the space station. The computers control the craft’s oxygen and navigation systems.

The computer meltdown came after NASA discovered a tear in the thermal blanket that protects Atlantis during re-entry. The tear, discovered after the shuttle's June 8 launch, has been repaired.

“The quicker she gets home the better,” Pandya, of Falmouth, said last week. “Everyone’s totally fine and safe. I feel confident she’ll get home safely.”

Williams has logged more time in space than any other woman.

-– Lauren K. Meade

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