Sunita Williams Is Back Again to Her Ancestral Home
Leše pri Tržiču (it. Monfalcone) — The Dobrčo villagers and an astronaut Sunita Williams have developed warm relations since the time Sunita made her first flight to the space on the Discovery ship in 2006 and brought Kranjska sausage to the International Space Station (ISS), and more specifically since her visit to Slovenia in September 2009.
At that time, the people who were studying the history of her family discovered that Marija Bohinjec, Sunita’s maternal grandmother, was born in Leše, house No. 31. Later, in her early youth in 1900 or 1901, she went to seek her fortune in America.
Dr. Dushan Petrach, a NASA employee, was the first who had an idea of inviting Sunita to Slovenia. Formally, Dr. Edward Kobal, the President of the Scientific Fund of Slovenia, imposed this official function on the NASA. His decision was motivated by that huge enthusiasm and personal interest, which Sunita Williams faced at that time. Dr. Dushan Petrach even noticed that this woman astronaut associated herself with an Indian only by 10%.
The Leše village will host the Day of Astronautics at the end of September in memory of Sonchka, as people in Leše started calling her affectionately, and of her last visit. This day, each person should at least drink a cup of famous Leše tea, which recipe is a secret. It is known only that the tea is made of carefully gathered and thoroughly dried herbs from Dobrčo and the surrounding area.
A new wave of enthusiasm swept Leše on 15 July last year, when their Sonchka had another flight to the space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Russian rocket “Soyuz”. In order to stimulate the interest of villagers to their famous astronaut, the “Slovenian Astronaut” Centre was founded in Leše a few days before the rocket launch. Officially, we are talking about an institution that will promote achievement of the Slovene astronauts and motivate young people to work in the field of astronautics. The director thereof is a former KS Leše president — Metka Kokalj.
One of the Centre’s co-founders is Metka’s daughter Jasmina, who lives in the United States and handles all contacts with NASA and of course with Sunita. Therefore, the members of the Centre in Slovenia can be aware of every detail related to Sunita.
The second woman who led the ISS
“We were observing Sunita’s travel to the space nearly a year ago first-hand over the Internet on a large projector on the first floor of the former school, where now you can see numerous letters, photographs, and astronauts equipment. There are only 50 of us dressed in the T-shirts with badges and labels showing that memorable journey to the space, which Sunita presented to us. We all then watched and admired her feat.
When we found out that she was the second woman in history to lead the International Space Station (ISS), where she had stayed until December, we were particularly impressed. We actually agreed in 2009 that she would visit Slovenia one more time. However, when we received a letter from the NASA three months ago asking about our willingness to meet Sunita, we had to work hard to get agreement on this visit.
It was also necessary to raise funds for the visit, during which she will visit Bled, Ljubljana, Vitanje, and Naklo and will meet with the President of Slovenia and young doctors of sciences and external doctoral candidates. Sunita will visit Leše on 25 May. We are grateful to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Technology and Economic Development as well as the Pipistrel Company initiative for their support of this event,” Metka Kokalj says.
These days, Metka is very busy since she and her colleagues need to transport the exhibition collection in honour of a famous pilot, instructor and athlete Franc Štruklj originally hailed from Trieste to the so called Sonchka’s Room in the premises of a former
Leše school. Besides, they need to place gently the latest leaflets and books.
The cherished dream — the Centre of the Slovenian Astronautics in Leše
“We have founded the Centre of Slovenian Astronautics to promote and motivate young people to acquire astronaut profession because it is Sunita’s cherished dream. To this end, we are preparing a program of celebrations in Leše and cooperate with the KSEVT Organization of the Vitanje settlement,” Melanija Primožič, the Chairman of the Institute Council, explained.
At the end, both interlocutors also reveal the long-term plan. “The most cherished our dream for now is to buy out premises in Leše, where we could develop the Centre of Slovenian Astronautics together with Sunita Williams, Jerry M. Linenger (the Centre also negotiates with his representative), and Ronald Sege. This may be a second-hand house owned by local villagers or any other object in the village. We are firmly convinced that there exists a sufficient number of caring people, and we will be able to bring this fantastic idea to life,” Metka Kokalj and Melanija Primožič say.