"Being in space is really cool."
That's not me talking -- the closest I've come to life in zero-G was using the family station wagon for simulated moon missions back in the day. No, that simple assessment comes straight from the mouth of NASA astronaut Sunita L. Williams.
Suni certainly knows a thing or two about space. The 47-year-old Euclid, Ohio native has logged longs stints in orbit and recently set a new record for cumulative time for female spacewalkers (40-plus hours on six separate episodes of "extravehicular activity"). She's up there, somewhere, right now, serving as commander of the International Space Station's Expedition 33, which runs through November.
I've read Suni's fascinating blog, and yesterday I got a rare opportunity to speak with her from space, as you can see from this video of our Earth-to-ISS chat (see below). NASA allotted us only 10 minutes for the interview, but Suni gave me a good sense of what life's like aboard the ISS. Floating comfortably amid the apparatus-cluttered surfaces (walls? floors?) of the station's "Destiny" lab, with her long, dark hair splayed out comically by the lack of gravity, she spoke modestly of her record-setting spacewalk and about how she managed to "swim" in a space for a recent triathlon. She described the scientific experiments under way aboard the station and the time-consuming tasks that occupy her and her crewmates. She explained how she spends her limited spare time (yes, the astronauts have Internet access) and even nailed an impromptu somersault for me.
"I'm not really a gymnast at home," she explained. "But here you can be a perfect 10 every single time."
Then Suni showed me the little stuffed dog that stands in for Gorby, her beloved Jack Russell terrier back on Earth. What else does she miss besides Gorby and her friends and family?
Did you guess food? You're right.
"Food is good up here in space," she said. "But every now and then it gets a little bit -- I hate to say it -- a little bit old. You try to spice it up by mixing some things together. But there are definitely certain things on Earth that I miss. One of those things is fried pickles. I know it's weird, but I'll be looking forward to those when I get home. And also my mom's good cooking. And pizza.
Yes, Suni covered a lot of ground during our interview -- and, of course, that's true literally as well as figuratively. The ISS cruises at 14,500 miles per hour; if my math is right, Suni traveled 2,400 miles between the time she said hello and bid me farewell.
Space is cool? Suni, I'm convinced.