Williams in her astronaut suit. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Common.
Williams in her astronaut suit. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Common.

Sunita Williams: An Inspiration to All

April 3, 2023

Have you ever had the chance to meet your hero? I did.

I met Sunita Lyn Williams, who on December 9, 2006, went to space to board the International Space Station (ISS). As a flight engineer, she established a female world record with four spacewalks, at a total of 29 hours, 17 minutes.

Although her record was later broken, she didn’t let that bring her down.

“We are going to continually break records,” Williams told me, when I spoke with her. “My records are broken and that’s the way we progress and do new things. Records are just a step to the next record.”

Born on September 19, 1965 in Euclid, Ohio, Williams and her family moved to Needham, Massachusetts, where she spent the majority of her life growing up with her two siblings; Jay Thomas is the eldest, and Dina Pandya is the middle-child. Her mother, Bonnie (Zalokar) Pandya, is a new author of “Little Tail, Big Tales,” and her father, Deepak Pandya, sadly passed away three years ago.

Williams went to Needham High School, then the United States Naval Academy, which little did she know would be one of the best decisions of her life. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Science.

At the United States Naval Academy, in 1987, she was made an ensign and reported for aviator training at the Naval Aviation Training Command. She wanted to fly jets, but was rejected. Two years later, she began combat helicopter training as a step toward becoming an astronaut.

Williams at her retirement for the Navy with DePaola. Photo courtesy of DePaola ’25.

Williams originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but in naval school, her friends in astronaut school inspired her to join them. After getting rejected for not having enough education, she went to the Florida Institute of Technology and graduated with an advanced degree in science and engineering management. Finally, she was accepted into astronaut training.

On her first space mission, Williams ran the Boston Marathon in orbit, beating the previous space marathon record with a time of four hours, 27 minutes.

From the second I met Williams, she became my lifelong inspiration. She has always been a very hard worker; even when life did not go her way, she never gave up and kept working hard for dreams. She has inspired me to be a hard worker and always persevere, even when there are speed bumps along the way. As she says, “You have what you have and then you just have to make the best of it.”

On July 14, 2012, Williams went back into space for her second time on Expedition 32/33. On this trip she spent almost a year in space and she served as the ISS Commander.

In 2014, WIilliams and Dina worked at my mother’s marathon water station in Wellesley. This is when I got to first met her.

Five years later, in May of 2017, she retired from the Navy at the rank of captain. Her retirement took place on the USS Constitution in Charlestown.

Williams at her retirement from the Navy with her niece, nephew, and Mckinlee DePaola. Photo courtesy of DePaola ’25.

My parents and I had the honor of attending her retirement ceremony, along with dignitaries from the Massachusetts Governor’s Office, Boston, Needham, the Navy and Marines, and even the Vice Admiral in charge of the Naval Academy. Nobody is more deserving of having a retirement ceremony on the USS Constitution, considered one of the Navy’s highest honors.

Although extremely busy and accomplished, Williams does find downtime with her family, including her husband, Micheal J. Williams, her niece, Panchei Pandya, her nephew, Tilu Pandya, and her two dogs and chickens. She loves spending time with h

Williams is also proud of her mother’s new book, about her now-deceased dog Gorby, who died while she was in space.

“When you live with an animal or are associated with an animal, we have so many things to learn from them and how they act and how they treat each other and don’t really care about,” Sunita said. “For example, skin color or what language somebody speaks or what religion they are, they just are, and they live in the day, and that is a good lesson to learn.”

Everyone should learn from and live by this lesson.

This year, Willaims will go to space for her third time, this time on the first crewed flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. She will be joined by just one other crew-member, and her time on the ISS will be short—but it will be a great step for Boeing spacecrafts and further space missions.

Sunita is my inspiration and I will forever be someone I look up to her. Kids my age, and those younger and older, should also look to her for inspiration. She taught me to never give up on my goals, even when things might not go my way, to always work hard in whatever you do, no matter what, and to be a good person.

Thank you, Sunita, for everything you have taught me.

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About the Contributor
Photo of Mckinlee DePaola
Mckinlee DePaola, Journalist
Mckinlee joined The Gator in 2023. She has been at Brimmer since 7th grade and loves it. She also loves photography, reading, listening to music, and horseback riding.

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