- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

From combined dispatches
NEW DELHI Thousands of people in northern India braved a cold winter's night yesterday to ring temple bells and pray for a miracle after the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded on re-entry with an Indian-born astronaut on board.
Aerospace engineer Kalpana Chawla, a symbol of pride for Indians, was one of the seven-member crew aboard the shuttle that broke up as it prepared to return to Earth after completing a 16-day mission. As news of the explosion reached Mrs. Chawla's hometown of Karnal, a wheat- and rice-growing center just outside New Delhi, people streamed out of their homes to pray for her and her six crew mates.
Mrs. Chawla's elder brother, Sanjay, told reporters outside his home in New Delhi that he learned of the disaster in a mobile text message from his wife, who was with family members in the United States to watch the shuttle landing.
"I knew within my heart that something big had gone wrong," he said. "When you are in such a job, then the family has to be ready for such news."
However, he had not given up hope: "Miracles do happen, but it is hoping against a lot of odds."
The residents of Karnal had planned a celebration but instead were in shock and mourning last night after it became clear she was dead.
Three hundred children at the Tagore Bal Niketan school that Mrs. Chawla attended had gathered for an evening of song and dance to celebrate the expected landing of Columbia, Principal Rajan Lamba said.
"A happy occasion turned into an atmosphere of disbelief, shock and condolence," Mr. Lamba told the Associated Press.
The Press Trust of India news agency had calculated when Indians could look to the skies and wave as the space shuttle carrying Mrs. Chawla flew past the region. The Times of India put her picture at the top of the front page in yesterday morning's editions.
Mrs. Chawla, a U.S. citizen, received a degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, then moved to the United States, where she earned advanced degrees in the same field from the University of Texas and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
She became an astronaut in 1994. On her first space flight, she was accused of making mistakes that sent a science satellite tumbling out of control. Other astronauts went on a spacewalk to capture it.
She told India Today that a NASA investigation had found that the accident resulted from a series of small errors.
"She was an accomplished astronaut, and NASA is a robust organization. It will sort out the problem and spring back," said the head of India's Space Research Organization, Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan.
The first Indian in space Rakesh Sharma, who was part of a Soviet space mission in 1984 expressed sorrow at the shuttle crash in an interview with Agence France-Presse.
Before she lifted off on the Columbia on Jan. 16 for her second trip to space, Mrs. Chawla told reporters that her inspiration to take up flying was J.R.D. Tata, who flew the first mail flights in India.

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