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Williams is looking forward to pizza, beach walks

Posted by Ralph Ranalli June 23, 2007 06:27 AM

Atlantis lands in California
(NASA photo)


Needham native and astronaut Sunita Williams returned to Earth yesterday, her record stay in space lengthened to 195 days because bad weather delayed and diverted the shuttle Atlantis.

Family and friends sighed with relief when the shuttle landed smoothly at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the backup landing site, Globe correspondent Claire Cummings reports.

"Until they really touch down, you're not really sure," said Williams' s sixth-grade teacher, Angela DiNapoli , who has been e-mailing her former student throughout the six months.

"I'm just glad that she's back," DiNapoli said in a telephone interview. "Deep down inside I knew she'd make it back OK. It was a beautiful landing."

Williams flew back in a reclining position so she could readapt to gravity more easily and underwent an immediate medical checkup. She will be monitored for 45 days and will be on a strict diet and exercise regimen, including swimming.

Williams, 41, was expected to stay overnight in California and return today to Houston, where her family, including her parents, Deepak and Bonnie Pandya , who live in Falmouth, await her arrival.

Williams set an endurance record for the longest space flight by a woman at 195 days. During her stay on the International Space Station, she also set the record for most time spacewalking by a woman.

She told reporters Wednesday that she looked forward to a slice of pizza and walking on the beach with her husband and dog, Gorby. But she was going to miss the space station.

"When you've been somewhere for six months, it becomes your home and it's hard to leave," Williams said.

Williams proudly displayed her Massachusetts roots during her stint on the space station. She talked often of her love of the Red Sox, and ran a version of the Boston Marathon on a special treadmill, while her sister Dina Pandya ran the race on Earth.

In May, Williams held a video conference from space with DiNapoli's students at Newman Elementary in Needham.

-- Globe City & Region section

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