Indian-American NASA astronaut Sunita Williams has advised Indian students stranded in the US due to the coronavirus-linked global travel restrictions to use the occasion to think how they could be a productive and positive addition to the society.
During a virtual interaction, she compared the Indian students' experience to her being in space in a spacecraft "where you don't get to go, see your family and friends and give them a real hug."
Organised by the Embassy of India Student Hub on Friday, the interaction was watched by 84,000 people on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the first 24 hours.
Williams drew on her 322 days of orbiting in space to encourage a move from "I" to "We", saying "Isolation also provides a time to reflect and think about" how you can be a productive, active, positive addition to the society".
She joined the live session virtually from her kitchen in Houston, where she is undergoing training for another human spaceflight in 2021.
During the interaction, Williams stated how everyone could achieve something significant right now.
"Even just staying home and being responsible and not infecting others or getting infected gives you the opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than yourself," she said.
She said that the COVID-19 crisis was making them stronger as it was teaching them to "push through and finish what is important."
The Indian students praised Williams for sharing her thoughts. "Suni (Williams) has been my inspiration since I was in school. She gave me the impetus to follow my fascination with aircraft and spacecraft and take up Aerospace Engineering in undergrad. I was really glad to have a dialogue with a global icon!" said 2020 graduate and India Student Hub volunteer Cherie Singh.
"It was brilliant to get the perspective of an astronaut who experienced social isolation from the whole mankind! I also realised that she is a regular person like all of us - that we don't have to become a 'superhuman' in one day to be a part of one of mankind's greatest achievements," said Arshiah Yusuf Mirza.
Williams first travelled to the International Space Station in 2006. She took a box of samosas, the Bhagavad Gita and an idol of Lord Ganesha to "keep her grounded" and help her "feel closer to home."
"A view from the stars! Thank you Sunita Williams @Astro_Suni for sharing your experiences from Space and inspiring our students. Excellent initiative by India Student Hub @IndianEmbassyUS," Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu said in a tweet.