Thursday, February 6, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Bush pays tribute to Kalpana

New York, February 5
Paying a glowing tribute to the courage and daring of India-born astronaut Kalpana Chawla, who was among seven space explorers killed in the Columbia shuttle tragedy, US President George W Bush said “she always wanted to reach for the stars.”

“None of our astronauts travelled a longer path to space than Kalpana Chawla. She left India as a student, but she would see the nation of her birth, all of it, from hundreds of miles above,” an emotional Bush said at a solemn memorial service for the seven astronauts at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, yesterday.

“When the sad news reached her hometown, an administrator at her high school recalled, `She always said she wanted to reach for the stars.’ She went there and beyond,” he said.

“Kalpana’s native country mourns her today and so does her adopted land,” Mr Bush said at the outdoor ceremony which was attended by about 10,000 persons, including NASA employees.

About first-time Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, Mr Bush said: “He also flew above his home, the land of Israel. Ramon said: `The quiet that envelops space makes the beauty even more powerful, and I only hope that the quiet can one day spread to my country.’”

“Ilan was a patriot, the devoted son of a Holocaust survivor, who served his country in two wars,” Mr Bush said. Mr Bush, who spoke for about nine minutes, said in a philosophical tone, “Some explorers do not return and the loss settles unfairly on some.”

As the family members of some of the lost astronauts wept, Mr Bush tried to console them, saying that the “sorrow is lonely but you are not alone. And in God’s own time, we can pray that the day of your reunion will come.”

Mr Bush nearly broke down towards the end of his speech when he was addressing children of the dead. “To the children who miss their mom and dad so much today, you need to know they love and that love will always be with you. And you can be proud of them for the rest of your lives.”

Several of the colleagues of Columbia astronauts, some who had helped train them, sobbed as the jets flew overhead in a missing-man formation with one plane separating itself from the other and heading high up in the clear blue sky.

The ceremony ended with the ringing of a Navy bell seven times — one for each lost astronaut. Later, Mr Bush spend about 40 minutes with the families of the astronauts.

More than 2,000 members of the Indian community in Houston also held a memorial service for Chawla and her six colleagues.

Prayers in Hindu and Sikh traditions were held and the congregation sang devotional songs at a solemn function organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America in Houston.

In another memorial ceremony, NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe said Chawla enjoyed the space flight and loved seeing the “beautiful” earth from afar. She told the mission control how beautiful the earth looked from miles above and called her fellow astronauts to the shuttle window to have a look, he said.

JERUSALEM: The remains of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon have been found among the wreckage of Columbia and will be brought to Israel for burial, the Israeli army said on Wednesday. NASA officials informed representatives of the Israeli army that the body of Ramon had been identified. The remains will be brought to Israel for a funeral in the coming days, the army said in a statement. PTI, AP

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