Astronaut Suni Williams will tell Sonoma about her NASA career, space travel and her next destination
The recent 50th anniversary of the moon landing rekindled broad interest in space travel, and having Rusty Schweickart – a Sonoma resident and Apollo astronaut – serve as the Fourth of July parade’s grand marshal brought it home locally.
Extra: See the ISS tour from Suni Williams in video below...
Eyes turned skyward again for lunar eclipses, meteor showers and other astral phenomenon, as if being earthbound was simply too limiting in this day and age.
The Sonoma Speakers Series next week will host perhaps their most unusual guest: a woman who embraces several job descriptions – from scientist to athlete to astronaut – Sunita Williams.
Sally Ride wasn’t the first female astronaut, though she was the first American woman to journey into space, in 1983. But it was 20 years earlier that the Soviet Union launched Valentina Tershkova into space, on June 16, 1963 – she orbited the earth 48 times and is still the only woman to have made a solo space mission. (Her accomplishment renders pale John Glenn’s paltry three orbits the year before.)
If Ride was the first American, she was far from the last – her immediate successor in space, astronaut Judith Resnik, was killed in the Challenger disaster of Jan. 28, 1986, though she had orbited before. But literally dozens of women followed in their wake over the following decades until, in December of 2006, Sunita Williams became the 45th woman to venture above the atmosphere, making the journey to the International Space Station aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Williams will come to Sonoma on Monday, Aug. 19, to celebrate the anniversary of the lunar landing as well as women’s role in the space program. The presentation will take place at the Hanna Boys Center auditorium, where Williams will be introduced by Schweickart and interviewed on stage by Sonoma resident Bill Angeloni.
“The first time I remember hearing her name was when she set the new record for sit-ups at Annapolis during our first summer there,” said Angeloni. She did 120 in two minutes. I should have known then that her tenacity would take her far.”
Like Williams, Angeloni attended the U.S. Naval Academy at a time when the space program was in full flower: the missions to the moon had ended years earlier, but the Space Shuttle was making regular flights to the first orbital station, Spacelab, and in 1983 – when Williams was starting her career at Annapolis – Sally Ride took her historic flight.
“There were a few of us that were dreaming of becoming an astronaut — I wanted to do that since eighth grade at Altimira,” said Angeloni, described by the Speaker Series as a “serial entrepreneur.” He recalls that Williams wanted to fly, but teases that how she decided to become an astronaut will be discussed at the Aug. 19 event.
“I really want the students to understand her road to becoming an astronaut, that it was not a straight path, and she had to overcome several obstacles along the way,” said Angeloni.
Williams, now 53, ticks all the boxes on the astronaut’s checklist: a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in physical science and the Florida Institute of Technology in engineering, she became a naval aviator in 1989 and served overseas in Operation Desert Shield and other operations. Her interest in aviation grew and she went to the Navy’s test pilot school, testing in an array of advanced helicopters.