Sunita Williams Honored in India

U.S. Naval officer and NASA astronaut Sunita Williams (pictured at left) is revered in India for her accomplishments and Indian American heritage. The depth of that reverence was apparent in a visit she made to India last week.

First she called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who called her a "source of inspiration" for youngsters in India as he announced special scholarships named after her for space studies:

Manmohan Singh told Williams that India was "truly proud of her achievements" and that she was a "source of inspiration for all our young people".

Expressing her gratitude, she said she was overwhelmed by the love and affection she received in India and by the interest of young Indians in aeronautics and space exploration.

According to a Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) statement, Manmohan Singh announced that the "Government of India will finance 10 scholarships, five for girls and five for boys, to promote the study of outer space. These scholarships will be called the Sunita Williams Scholarships for Higher Education in Space (SWISHES)."

Williams also received a "rousing reception" from hundreds of delegates participating in the 58th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), which met last week in Hyderabad:

As soon as the US naval officer and NASA astronaut entered the precincts of the Hyderabad International Convention Centre, where the IAC is being held, there was a round of applause and a bit of commotion with television crews and paparazzi vying for a better glimpse of Sunita. She was welcomed by the hosts with a traditional aarti and vermillion (bindi) mark on her beaming face.

Among the first to meet Sunita was Indian cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma. They exchanged notes on their respective trips to space.

About 2,000-odd Indian and overseas delegates from 45 countries and hundreds of school and college students from the twin cities eagerly waited to listen to Sunita share her experiences of spinning in the earth orbit for over six months on board the International Space Station (ISS).

A security ring around the venue guarded her movements.

Here’s an image of the tight security that surrounded Williams’ rock-star visit. And Google Video has a 23-minute video of her presentation: