In an uncommon celebration of Children’s Day, students from various schools in and around Ahmedabad spoke via radio to NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who is currently on-board the International Space Station, and queried her on how she spends her day, what the heavenly bodies look like from there, how the astronauts keep themselves clean and even what they eat.
“We have all sorts of things to eat here. We have the normal American food, some chicken, some potatoes. We have some Indian food like palak paneer, some Japanese food, some rice,” said Williams in reply to six-year-old Riddhiraj Kumar’s question about what they ate. The mention of meat evoked a gasp from the audience of children and parents, most of whom are residents of a state that its chief minister describes as “by and large vegetarian”.
Williams had begun her short address to the waiting audience with a “Happy Diwali and New Year” wish.
To eight-year-old Dhruv Pandey’s question on how they keep clean at the ISS, Williams, whose father hails from Mehsana in Gujarat, said cleanliness wasn’t really a problem in space since there is no dirt there, but that they use “a vacuum cleaner to clean up” every once in a while.
To 17-year-old Deepti Parida’s query on the astronauts’ daily routine, the American Indian said they maintain an eight-hour working day, and try to sleep for eight hours, and spend the rest of the time doing “housework”.
“It’s a lot like being in a house. We have to cook food and do some repairs,” Williams said over a cracking radio link, which was established between Science City, where Wednesday’s programme was hosted, and an amateur radio ground station operated by Claudio Areoti in Casale Monferatto, Italy.
The station recorded and sent 20 questions from students who took part in the 10-minute programme here. Williams answered all but a few. At the time, the ISS was about 200 miles somewhere above Italy, having made its way there at 17,500 miles an hour across the northern Atlantic Ocean just a few minutes earlier.
Williams, commander of the three-member Expedition 33 team currently on-board the ISS, said that for entertainment, the crew mainly rely on a “little bit of internet, pre-recorded TV shows and a whole lot of time looking out the window”. She said the moon and its craters and the Earth showed clearly from there.
Relying to 17-year-old Saloni Kanodia who wanted to know if “persons on the ISS have the opportunity to practise their religion daily”, Williams said, “I think just being up here is a really spiritual. Everyday when I look out of the window, I think about the meaning of life.”