Sunita Williams receives Padma Bhushan

July 5th, 2008 - 11:36 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Pratibha Patil

Washington, July 5 (IANS) Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams has received India’s third highest civilian award the Padma Bhushan for her feat of completing the longest space flight for a woman. “It is a great honour. I am elated,” said Williams dressed in a purple kurta and matching pleated printed salwar as she received her award from Indian Consul General S.M. Gavai at a function in Houston Friday.

Among this year’s Republic day honourees, she could not receive the award in person from President Pratibha Patil in New Delhi.

Recounting her 195 days stay in space, she said: “Earth looks beautiful from space as there are no borders on the planet. Sometimes we think we have borders because we are male, female, of different religions or have differently coloured skin. Well, you don’t, they are just in your mind and they are not real.

“I could see this borderless world only after I went to space, but there are people like Mahatma Gandhi, who could visualise all this even without going to space. Gandhiji’s vision of keeping people at peace together is really a cornerstone of humanity,” Williams added.

Launched to the International Space Station on space shuttle Discovery on Dec 9, 2006 she returned to earth June 22 after 195 days in space. She also set a world record for women with four spacewalks totalling 29 hours and 17 minutes.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson subsequently broke the record in 2008 with five spacewalks.

Among the personal items Williams took with her on the flight were a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a small figurine of Ganesha and some samosas.

She is the second Indian American astronaut to go into space after Kalpana Chawla who perished in the 2003 Columbia disaster with six other astronauts.

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