Astronaut Sunita Williams has become a space icon and is set to return after her maiden space journey.
The 41-year-old took off with the space shuttle Atlantis on December 9, 2006. As she returns home after six months, she holds several spaceflight records.
Sunita Williams, who is the flight engineer, was born to a Slovenian-American mother and an Indian father from Gujarat.
And it is because of her Indian origin that this shuttle mission attracted considerable interest in India.
At the time of the launch, her uncle, aunt and cousins in Ahmedabad were glued to the television.
Also watching her were a bunch of children in a Karnal school, where Kalpana Chawla studied and went on to become the first astronaut of Indian origin aboard a NASA shuttle.
Sunita's mission was to undertake space walks and operate the space shuttle's robotic arm, both highly specialised and delicate tasks. More significantly, she had to stay on for nearly six months.
Sunita spent that time on the International Space Station rewiring it for further expansion.
For the 42-year-old who had begun as a helicopter pilot, this was undoubtedly the high point of her career so far. But Williams had always dreamt of reaching the stars.
''When she was growing up, President Kennedy had a big push for space travel. And we watched this on TV and the first time man was on the moon and all the interesting things that were happening at that time,'' said Bonnie Pandya, Sunita Mother.
''She was very much in tune to all that. And it is probably something that she had in the back of her mind,'' she added.
Pursuing the dream, she created several records. Apart from setting the record for the longest stay by a woman in space, she achieved many more milestones.
For instance, she set the world record for females with four spacewalks totaling 29 hours and 17 minutes, a record for the longest spacewalk by a woman reaching 22 hours and 27 minutes and a Boston Marathon run on a treadmill at the ISS.
Inspired by Kalpana Chawla
Her family says that Sunita derived inspiration from Kalpana Chawla while both worked together at NASA.
''She says she learnt a lot from Kalpana. Just being with her was great fun. Kalpana had a lot of different interests. One of the interests was in Indian music. And they both used to listen to Indian classical music together,'' said Deepak Pandya, Sunita's father.
For now, there are a lot of hopes riding on Sunita's safe return, who space veterans believe is an icon of the changing times.