Mar 2023

Throwback to the time when astronaut Sunita Williams took part in a triathlon from space

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, of Indo-Slovenian origin, did the seemingly impossibly by participating in a triathlon from space and went on to finish it at the Nautica Malibu Triathlon held in Southern California, in 2012.

Williams, completed the three required activities for a triathlon - running, biking, and swimming from space while the others in the race took part in it from the ground itself. Williams, who was the then U.S Commander of the Expedition 33 crew aboard the International Space Station, which was orbiting the Earth 386 kilometres overhead, ensured that the triathlon experience is not missed out on by replicating the entire thing.

Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, raises her hand during the mission's third session of extravehicular activity September 5, 2012 in space. (Source: Getty)

Sunita Williams has always been pretty vested in athletic activities and made use of onboard exercise equipment like stationary bike, treadmill and strength training machine which was designed specifically to generate the feeling of weightlessness, to take part in the triathlon while being in space. She used an Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) that allowed for her to do weightlifting and resistance exercises that would translate to the feeling of swimming in micro-gravity.

Putting together all of these and even running the Falmouth Road Race, a 7-mile race virtually from space again in the warm-up to the main triathlon, Sunita Williams, swum half a mile, biked for 18 miles and ran 4 miles to clock 1 hour 48 minutes and 33 seconds in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon of 2012. Once the woman to hold the record of doing the most number of spacewalks (7) and also for the longest duration by a woman on a spacewalk (50 hours 40 minutes), she is now a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. After the 2012 triathlon achievement, Sunita Williams spoke from the International Space Centre and said, "Thanks everybody for your support and ideas about health and fitness and how important it is for humans and getting us back into long-duration spaceflight. I'm happy to be done. It wasn't easy, and I'm sure everybody in California's very happy to be done too," as she touched the finish line.

Fitness is a big part of being in the space, especially for a long duration. The weightless conditions of being in space can take a toll on flyers who are specifically instructed to spend time working out to prevent the muscles and bones from deteriorating. "It's critically important to understand human physiology and how to keep you strong on orbit," NASA's flight director in Mission Control had said after Williams completed the triathlon, congratulating the able astronaut on a race "Well done." This wasn't the first time Sunita Williams did something athletic onboard a spacecraft either. Back in 2007, when Williams was on the last leg of being on the orbiting outpost, she took part in the Boston Marathon and finished it in 4 hours 23 minutes and 10 seconds, as she crossed the orbital finish line.

Williams has always been an inspiration on such fitness activities. She had mentioned and showed her gratitude to the NASA Exercise Lab staff and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, CNN's medical correspondent who trained with Williams before her launch and completed the race in Malibu.