Suni Williams
Williams in 2018
Sunita Lyn Pandya

(1965-09-19) September 19, 1965 (age 58)
Other namesSončka
EducationUnited States Naval Academy (BS)
Florida Institute of Technology (MS)
RelativesDeepak Pandya (father)
Space career
NASA astronaut
RankCaptain, USN
Time in space
321d 17h 15m
SelectionNASA Group 17 (1998)
Total EVAs
Total EVA time
50h 40m
MissionsSTS-116/117 (Expedition 14/15)
Soyuz TMA-05M (Expedition 32/33)
Boeing Crewed Flight Test
Mission insignia
STS-116 ISS Expedition 14 ISS Expedition 15 STS-117 Expedition 32 Expedition 33

Sunita Lyn Williams (née Pandya; born September 19, 1965), nicknamed Suni in the United States and Sončka in Slovenia,[1] is an American astronaut, United States Navy officer, and former record holder for most spacewalks by a woman (seven) and most spacewalk time for a woman (50 hours, 40 minutes).[2][3][4][5][6][7] Williams was assigned to the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 14 and Expedition 15. In 2012, she served as a flight engineer on Expedition 32 and then commander of Expedition 33.

Early life and education

Williams is a native of Needham, Massachusetts, was born in Euclid, Ohio, to Mumbai Indian-American neuroanatomist Deepak Pandya and Slovene-American Ursuline Bonnie (Zalokar) Pandya, who reside in Falmouth, Massachusetts. She was the youngest of three children. Her brother Jay Thomas is four years older and her sister Dina Annad is three years older. Williams' paternal family is from Jhulasan in the Mehsana district in Gujarat, India,[8] whereas her maternal family is of Slovene descent.[9] Williams has taken the Slovenian flag,[10] a samosa and Carniolan sausage to space in celebration of her Indian and Slovenian heritage.[11]

Williams graduated from Needham High School in 1983. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in physical science from the United States Naval Academy in 1987, and a Master of Science degree in engineering management from Florida Institute of Technology in 1995.[5]

Military career

Williams was commissioned an ensign in the United States Navy in May 1987. After a six-month temporary assignment at the Naval Coastal System Command, she was designated a Basic Diving Officer. She next reported to the Naval Air Training Command, where she was designated a Naval Aviator in July 1989. She received initial H-46 Sea Knight training in Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 3 (HC-3), and was then assigned to Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 8 (HC-8) in Norfolk, Virginia, with which she made overseas deployments to the Mediterranean, Red Sea and the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Provide Comfort. In September 1992, she was the Officer-in-Charge of an H-46 detachment sent to Miami, Florida, for Hurricane Andrew relief operations aboard USS Sylvania. In January 1993, Williams began training at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. She graduated in December, and was assigned to the Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Directorate as an H-46 Project Officer and V-22 chase pilot in the T-2. Later, she was assigned as the squadron Safety Officer and flew test flights in the SH-60B/F, UH-1, AH-1W, SH-2, VH-3, H-46, CH-53, and the H-57.[5]

In December 1995, she went back to the Naval Test Pilot School as an instructor in the Rotary Wing Department and as the school's Safety Officer. There she flew the UH-60, OH-6, and the OH-58. She was then assigned to USS Saipan as the Aircraft Handler and the Assistant Air Boss. Williams was deployed on Saipan in June 1998 when she was selected by NASA for the astronaut program.[5] She has logged more than 3,000 flight hours in more than 30 aircraft types.[12]

Career in NASA

Williams wearing an EMU suit, circa 2004

Williams began her astronaut candidate training at the Johnson Space Center in August 1998.[5]


Astronaut Sunita L. Williams, STS-116 mission specialist, participates in the mission's third planned session of extravehicular activity (EVA)

Williams was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) with STS-116, aboard Space Shuttle Discovery, on December 9, 2006, to join the Expedition 14 crew. In April 2007, the Russian members of the crew rotated, changing to Expedition 15 .

Expeditions 14 and 15

Williams became the first person to run a marathon from the space station on April 16, 2007

After launching Williams arranged to donate her pony tail to Locks of Love. Fellow astronaut Joan Higginbotham cut her hair aboard the International Space Station and the ponytail was brought back to Earth by the STS-116 crew.[13] Williams performed her first extra-vehicular activity on the eighth day of the STS-116 mission. On January 31, February 4, and February 9, 2007, she completed three spacewalks from the ISS with Michael López-Alegría. During one of these walks, a camera became untethered, probably because the attaching device failed, and floated off to space before Williams could react.[14]

Joan Higginbotham and Williams work the controls of the Canadarm2 in the ISS's Destiny Laboratory

On the third spacewalk, Williams was outside the station for 6 hours and 40 minutes to complete three spacewalks in nine days. She has logged 29 hours and 17 minutes in four spacewalks, eclipsing the record held by Kathryn C. Thornton for most spacewalk time by a woman.[5][7] On December 18, 2007, during the fourth spacewalk of Expedition 16, Peggy Whitson surpassed Williams, with a cumulative EVA time of 32 hours, 36 minutes.[15][16] In early March 2007, she received a tube of wasabi in a Progress spacecraft resupply mission in response to her request for more spicy food. When she opened the tube, which was packaged at one atmospheric pressure, the gel-like paste was forced out in the lower pressure of the ISS. In the free-fall environment, the spicy geyser was difficult to contain.[17]

On April 26, 2007, NASA decided to bring Williams back to Earth on the STS-117 mission aboard Atlantis. Although she did not break the U.S. single spaceflight record that was recently broken by former crew member Commander Michael López-Alegría, she did break the record for longest single spaceflight by a woman.[5][18][19] Williams served as a mission specialist and returned to Earth on June 22, 2007, at the end of the STS-117 mission. Poor weather at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral forced mission managers to skip three landing attempts there over a 24-hour period. They then diverted Atlantis to Edwards Air Force Base in California, where the shuttle touched down at 3:49 p.m. EDT, returning Williams home after a 192-day stay in space.

Marathon in space

On April 16, 2007, she ran the first marathon by any person in space.[20] Williams was listed as an entrant for the 2007 Boston Marathon, and completed the distance in four hours and 24 minutes.[21][22][23] The other crew members cheered her on and gave her oranges during the race. Williams' sister, Dina Pandya, and fellow astronaut Karen L. Nyberg ran the marathon on Earth, and Williams received updates on their progress from Mission Control. In 2008, Williams participated in the Boston Marathon again.[24]

Expeditions 32 and 33

Williams exercises on COLBERT during ISS Expedition 32
Williams appears to touch the bright Sun during a spacewalk conducted on September 5, 2012.

Williams was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 15, 2012, as part of Expedition 32/33. Her Russian spacecraft Soyuz TMA-05M docked with the ISS for a four-month stay at the orbiting outpost on July 17, 2012.[25] The docking of the Soyuz spacecraft occurred at 4:51 GMT as the ISS flew over Kazakhstan at an altitude of 252 miles. The hatchway between the Soyuz spacecraft and the ISS was opened at 7:23 GMT and Williams floated into the ISS to begin her duties as a member of the Expedition 32 crew. On the Soyuz spacecraft, she was accompanied by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. Williams served as the commander of the ISS during her stay onboard ISS Expedition 33, succeeding Gennady Padalka.[26] She became the commander of the International Space Station on September 17, 2012, being only the second woman to achieve the feat.[27] Also in September 2012, she became the first person to do a triathlon in space, which coincided with the Nautica Malibu Triathlon held in Southern California.[28] She used the International Space Station's own treadmill and stationary bike, and for the swimming portion of the race, she used the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) to do weightlifting and resistance exercises that approximate swimming in microgravity. After swimming half a mile (0.8 km), biking 18 miles (29 km), and running 4 miles (6.4 km), Williams finished with a time of one hour, 48 minutes and 33 seconds, as she reported.[28]

She returned to Earth with fellow astronauts Yuri Malenchenko and Akihiko Hoshide on November 19, 2012, touching down in the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan. Helicopters joined the search-and-recovery crew to assist them, as their capsule parachuted down some 35 kilometres (22 mi) from the planned touchdown site due to a procedural delay.[29]

Commercial Crew program

In July 2015, NASA announced Williams as one of the first astronauts for U.S. Commercial spaceflights.[30] Subsequently, she has started working with Boeing and SpaceX to train in their commercial crew vehicles, along with other chosen astronauts. In August 2018 she was assigned to the first mission flight, CTS-1, to the International Space Station of Boeing CST-100 Starliner.[31] On April 18, 2022, NASA said that it has not finalized which of the cadre of Starliner astronauts, including Barry Wilmore, Michael Fincke, and Williams, will fly on the Crewed Flight Test mission or the first operational Starliner mission.[32] On June 16, 2022, NASA confirmed that Starliner-CFT will be a two-person flight test, consisting of Wilmore and Williams.[33] Sunita Williams would become the first woman to fly on the maiden crewed flight of an orbital spacecraft.


As of August 2012, Sunita Williams has made seven spacewalks totaling 50 hours and 40 minutes,[34] at the time putting Williams fifth on the list of most experienced spacewalkers.[35] On August 30, 2012, Williams and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide ventured outside the ISS to conduct US EVA-18. They removed and replaced the failing Main Bus Switching Unit-1 (MBSU-1), and installed a thermal cover onto Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 (PMA-2).[36]

Personal life

Williams with Slovenian Defense Minister Ljubica Jelušič (2009)
Williams at Science City Kolkata in April 2013

Williams is married to Michael J. Williams, a federal police officer in Texas. The two have been married for more than 20 years, and both flew helicopters in the early days of their careers. They reside together in suburban Houston, Texas. She had a pet Jack Russell terrier named Gorby who was featured with her on the Dog Whisperer television show on the National Geographic Channel on November 12, 2010.[37] In 2012, Williams expressed a desire to adopt a girl from Ahmedabad.[38]

Williams practices Hinduism. In December 2006, she took a copy of the Bhagavad Gita to the International Space Station. In July 2012, she took there a peaceful Om and a copy of the Upanishads.[39] In September 2007, Williams visited the Sabarmati Ashram and her ancestral village of Jhulasan in Gujarat, India. She was awarded the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Vishwa Pratibha Award by the World Gujarati Society,[40] the first person of Indian descent who was not an Indian citizen to be presented the award. On October 4, 2007, Williams spoke at the American Embassy School, and then met Manmohan Singh, the then-Prime Minister of India.[41]

Williams has also visited Slovenia several times.[11] In 2009, the club Slovenian Astronaut (Slovenski astronavt) arranged a memorial room for her in Leše, Tržič, northwestern Slovenia.[42] Leše was the birthplace of her great-grandmother Marija Bohinjec, born in 1891, who immigrated into the United States as an 11-year-old in 1900 or 1901.[43] In May 2013, the former President of Slovenia Borut Pahor awarded Williams a medal of merit for her contribution to the popularisation of science and technology among the Slovenian youth.[44] During her stay in October 2014 she paid a visit to the Astronomical Society Vega in Ljubljana.[45][46] She visited Slovenia again in 2016.[47]

In June 2017, the Needham Public Schools committee voted to name the town's new elementary school after Williams.[48] In May 2020, Williams addressed more than 500,000 Indian and other international students in the United States in a virtual interview organized by the Student Hub at the Embassy of India, Washington, DC, during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.[49]

Williams is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.[3]


Williams was a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Society of Flight Test Engineers, American Helicopter Association.[50]

Honors and awards

See also


  1. ^ "Sunita Williams: Najljubša mi je Zemlja, ker je na njej Slovenija" [Sunita Williams: My Favourite Place Is Earth Because Slovenia Is on It]. Ž (in Slovenian). April 18, 2021.
  2. ^ "Astronaut Biography: Sunita Williams". Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Astronaut Biography" (PDF). National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Houston, Texas. August 2018.
  4. ^ Garcia, Mark. "Peggy Whitson Breaks Spacewalking Record". NASA blog. NASA. Archived from the original on May 21, 2017. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g NASA (2007). "Sunita L. Williams (Commander, USN)" (PDF). National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
  6. ^ "Spacewalking astronauts conquer stiff bolt, install key power unit on 2nd trip outside". Associated Press. 2012. Archived from the original on September 8, 2012. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Tariq Malik (2007). "Orbital Champ: ISS Astronaut Sets New U.S. Spacewalk Record". Retrieved December 19, 2007.
  8. ^ Sunita Williams to start her India trip from April 1, The Times of India, March 31, 2013.
  9. ^ Fonda, Robert (March 2008). "Rodoslovne raziskave s pomočjo svetovnega spleta" [Genealogical Research Using World Wide Web]. Drevesa (in Slovenian). 15 (1). Slovensko rodoslovno društvo [Slovenian Genealogical Society]: 11–17. hdl:11686/9035. COBISS 246861824.
  10. ^ Hanc, Marjana (June 6, 2014). "Slovenska zastava je v vesolju 2032-krat obkrožila Zemljo" [Slovenian Flag Orbits Earth 2032 Times in Space]. Delo (in Slovenian).
  11. ^ a b Bartolj, Jaka (August 20, 2015). "One of the most notable female astronauts of all time is partly of Slovenian descent". Radiotelevizija Slovenija. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  12. ^ "SpaceShipOne Flight Logs". World Spaceflight. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  13. ^ (December 20, 2006). "Astronaut cuts her hair in space for charity". Retrieved June 8, 2007.
  14. ^ "Astronaut's Camera is Lost In Space". December 22, 2006. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved June 8, 2007.
  15. ^ CollectSpace (2007). "Astronauts make 100th station spacewalk". CollectSpace. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  16. ^ NASA (2007). "Spacewalkers Find No Solar Wing Smoking Gun". NASA. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  17. ^ Schneider, Mike (March 2, 2007). "Space station suffers". NBC News. Retrieved March 2, 2007.
  18. ^ "Ham-astronauts setting records in space". ARRLWeb. The American Radio Relay League. February 5, 2007. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved June 8, 2007.
  19. ^ Mike Schneider for Associated Press (2007). "Astronaut stuck in space — for now". NBC News. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
  20. ^ Eldora Valentine (April 6, 2007). "Race From Space Coincides with Race on Earth". NASA. Retrieved June 8, 2007.
  21. ^ "Sunita Williams Runs Marathon in Space". Zee News Limited. April 17, 2007. Retrieved June 8, 2007.
  22. ^ Jimmy Golen for Associated Press (2007). "Astronaut to run Boston Marathon — in space". NBC News. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
  23. ^ NASA (2007). "NASA Astronaut to Run Boston Marathon in Space". NASA. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
  24. ^ "Cheruiyot wins Boston Marathon". April 22, 2008. Retrieved March 19, 2023.
  25. ^ "Sunita Williams' spacecraft docks with ISS". The Times of India. July 17, 2012.
  26. ^ "Sunita Williams takes over command at International Space Station". The Times of India. September 17, 2012. Archived from the original on January 26, 2013.
  27. ^ "Indian-American astronaut Sunita williams takes over command at space station". The Indian Express. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  28. ^ a b Moskowitz, Clara (September 17, 2012). "NASA Astronaut Completes 1st Triathlon in Space".
  29. ^ "Sunita Williams returns to Earth after 4 months in space". India Today. November 19, 2012.
  30. ^ NASA (July 9, 2015). "NASA Selects Astronauts for First U.S. Commercial Spaceflights".
  31. ^ "NASA Assigns Crews to First Test Flights, Missions on Commercial Spacecraft". NASA. August 3, 2018. Retrieved August 4, 2018.
  32. ^ Clark, Stephen. "Starliner astronauts eager to see results of crew capsule test flight – Spaceflight Now". Retrieved May 19, 2022.
  33. ^ Potter, Sean (June 16, 2022). "NASA Updates Astronaut Assignments for Boeing Starliner Test Flight". NASA. Retrieved June 17, 2022.
  34. ^ NASA (September 6, 2012). "Williams, Hoshide Complete MBSU Installation". Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  35. ^ William Harwood (November 1, 2012). "Astronauts bypass station cooling system on spacewalk". Retrieved November 4, 2012.
  36. ^ Pete Harding, Chris Bergin and William Graham (July 14, 2012). "Soyuz TMA-05M launches trio to the International Space Station". Retrieved July 18, 2012.
  37. ^ "Dog Whisperer: Astronaut Dogs & Mongo". National Geographic. Archived from the original on July 14, 2011.
  38. ^ "Astronaut Sunita Williams to adopt Gujarati girl". The Times of India. June 27, 2012. Archived from the original on January 26, 2013.
  39. ^ "Sunita Williams sends out Diwali greetings from space". TIMES NOW. November 14, 2012. Archived from the original on March 31, 2021.
  40. ^ "Sunita Williams". Archived from the original on January 22, 2013. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
  41. ^ American Embassy School (October 5, 2007). "Astronaut Sunita Williams Visits AES". American Embassy School. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  42. ^ Teran Košir, Alenka (May 14, 2020). "Astronavtka slovenskih korenin razkriva, kaj se dogaja na vesoljski ladji #video" [An Astronaut of Slovenian Origin Reveals What is Going in a Spaceship #video]. (in Slovenian).
  43. ^ Hanc, Marjana (March 26, 2013). "Sunita Williams spet v svoji pradomovini" [Sunita Williams in her maternal ancestors' homeland one more time]. Delo (in Slovenian).
  44. ^ "Predsednik republike podpisal ukaz o podelitvi odlikovanja Suniti Williams" [The President of the Republic Signs the Order Awarding the Decoration to Sunita Williams] (in Slovenian). Office of the President of the Republic of Slovenia. May 16, 2013.
  45. ^ "ASTRONOMSKI KROŽEK Gimnazije Šentvid, Zanimivosti 2014" (in Slovenian). ARNES.
  46. ^ "RTV 365". RTV 4D (in Slovenian). Radiotelevizija Slovenija.
  47. ^ "Sunita Williams Is Back Again to Her Ancestral Home". 2TM. May 13, 2016.
  48. ^ "Massachusetts school to be named after NASA astronaut Sunita Williams". NBC News. June 26, 2017. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  49. ^ "Stay home, reflect and be part of something bigger: Sunita Williams to Indian students stuck in US – Times of India". The Times of India. May 5, 2020. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  50. ^ "Sunita L. Williams - NASA". Retrieved October 11, 2023.
  51. ^ "Sunita Williams receives Padma Bhushan". Retrieved July 5, 2008.
  52. ^ "Sunita Williams to get her honorary doctorate at GTU – Indian Express". The Indian Express.
  53. ^ "Predsednik republike podpisal ukaz o podelitvi odlikovanja Suniti Williams" (in Slovenian). Retrieved May 20, 2013.

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Preceded byGennady Padalka ISS Expedition Commander September 16 to November 18, 2012 Succeeded byKevin Ford