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India mourns loss of national heroine
AFAR
2/2/2003



"When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system."

India is mourning the loss of Kalpana Chawla, one of the seven astronauts killed aboard the space shuttle Columbia.

In the small town of Karnal, 75 miles northwest of New Delhi, where Ms. Chawla was born, residents poured into the local school she had attended as a child to pray, laying flowers and bowing before her photograph.

Ms. Chawla’s relatives remember how she used to stand outside staring at the stars for hours when she was a little girl. Her school projects and papers were all about the stars, planets, and outer space.

Ms. Chawla earned a degree in engineering from Punjab Engineering College in 1982 and then went to the United States, where she earned her Master's and doctorate in aerospace engineering. She joined NASA in 1995 as an astronaut candidate.

Although she took great pride in her roots, she did not feel Indian in space. She had recently said, "When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system."

The Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee conveyed his sympathies to the American people in a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush. "We mourn with you in this moment of grief. Our hearts go out to the bright young men and women who were on that spacecraft. For us in India, we felt that since one of them was an Indian-born woman it adds a special poignancy to the tragedy."

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