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'We all have a destiny'

By Tanmaya Kumar Nanda in New York
February 04, 2003 13:02 IST
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Though Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Lyn Williams, another Indian American astronaut with NASA, were chosen for the space flight programme, the only time they flew together was in a private plane that belonged to David Brown, the mission specialist on the Columbia space shuttle that crashed on February 1.

Ursanline B Pandya, Sunita's mother, told that her daughter and Kalpana were good friends. "They did a lot of things together. They would do a lot of running together. They worked on different projects and sometimes went out."

"Kalpana was good friends with Dave [David] too and she, Dave and Sunny [Sunita] flew the plane back from Texas to where his hangar was."

Sunita is now with Kalpana's family in Houston to provide moral support, Pandya said.

"She [Sunita] knew her family well. While Kalpana was flying, she had gone out with her two sisters. She met them in Houston. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to meet Kalpana."

Kalpana and Sunita had never trained for a space flight together. "Kalpana was older and had been there much longer."

Pandya is praying for Kalpana's family. "I don't know how her parents are handling it. I haven't heard from Sunny yet. She didn't talk to me much," she said.

The lady has reconciled to the fact that her daughter is a would-be astronaut. "We are concerned, of course, but as parents there's nothing we can do about it. We just have to handle it the best we can.

"There is a huge risk. But then there is a risk in driving a car as well. We can't call up the government and say 'give us back our kids'. We all have a destiny..."

The Columbia Disaster: The Complete Coverage

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Tanmaya Kumar Nanda in New York