UNITED STATES, June 6, 2024 (HerZindagi): When Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams lifted off aboard Boeing’s Starliner capsule on Wednesday, she made history as the first female astronaut to fly on the inaugural flight of a crewed spacecraft, according to NBC News. But the pioneering spaceflyer didn’t leave her Indian heritage behind on Earth for this milestone mission. Among the items Sunita Williams packed for her third trip to space was a statue of the Hindu Deity Ganesha. As she told reporters at a 2013 press conference in Delhi, “Ganesh has always been in my house. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve had Ganesh, and so He had to come with me to space, of course.” Williams also brought along sacred texts connecting her to Indian spiritual traditions “a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads.” And in keeping with her admission that “you can never get enough of Indian food,” the astronaut made sure to include beloved samosas for herself.

The 58-year-old daughter of an Indian father and Slovenian mother has proudly celebrated her mixed heritage during her trailblazing NASA career spanning over two decades. As NBC News reports, “While on Expedition 32/33 in 2012, she also sent out a greeting from space during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.” This current mission aboard the Starliner “Calypso” capsule, commanded by Williams, is a crucial test flight for Boeing. If successful, it will certify the new spacecraft to begin operational crewed missions to the International Space Station for NASA. Selected by NASA in 1998, Williams has spent a cumulative 322 days in space over two prior missions, holding records for most spacewalks by a woman until Peggy Whitson’s mark surpassed hers. As her mother Bonnie Pandya shared with NBC before launch, Williams was “so happy about going” on this pioneering flight that allows her multicultural background to be part of an historic journey helping pave the way for future space travel.