Here are 20 Female Astronauts You Should Definitely Know

12 of 21

11. Sunita Williams

Sunita Williams was born in Ohio to Deepak Pandya, an Indian-American neuroanatomist, and Ursuline Bonnie Pandya, a Slovene American. She grew up with an interest in science, as many NASA astronauts do. To this end, Williams first joined the U.S. Navy, where she began as an ensign in 1987. She eventually received aviation training from the Navy, including helicopter training. In 1993, Williams began training as a test pilot in the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. All told, she’s logged over 3,000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft types during her piloting career.

Her experience as a high-level pilot made her primed to join the astronaut corps. She began her career with NASA in 1998, when she began her astronaut training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. She first went to space on STS-116, a 2007 mission in which she joined the Expedition 14 crew.

After the Russian crewmembers rotated back to Earth, the mission changed to Expedition 15. Williams’ time in space there was largely occupied by spacewalks. Astronauts who are on spacewalks often spend hours in space, especially since the process of leaving and entering the space station in bulky, pressurized spacesuits takes much more time than simply walking in your front door. As of today, her total spacewalk time comes out to a mind-boggling 50 hours and 40 minutes.

In 2007, Williams also ran the first marathon in space. She was specifically participating in the Boston Marathon, finishing in four hours and 24 minutes. Williams again ran in the Boston Marathon in 2008, though this time she completed it on Earth.