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'It wasn't science that killed Kalpana'

By M D Riti in Bangalore
February 06, 2003 12:58 IST
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"Ever since Kalpana [Chawla] went into space, I felt a strange foreboding..." Nirmala Nampoothiripad, the first science teacher of the Indian American astronaut who died in the Columbia shuttle crash on February 1, said on Wednesday.

"That tension left me only after the shuttle crashed..."

Nampoothiripad was Chawla's teacher at the Tagore Bal Niketan in Karnal, Haryana. The astronaut acknowledged the impact that her teacher made on her by carrying a banner for her 'Nirmaladidi' aboard the Columbia.

"At first I could not place Kalpana," said Nampoothiripad, "but when I saw her photographs on television... I recognised her. She was certainly my student a long time ago at the Tagore Bal Niketan in Karnal."

Nampoothiripad, who has been a teacher at the St Paul's School in Bangalore for the past 16 years, recalled the astronaut with affection. "... I could not remember her at once. In my classes... she was a quiet child who listened to every word I said, and seemed to absorb it all.

"She looked the same even now. The same face but more mature..."

Nampoothiripad kept track of the Columbia's activities every day of the 17 days that it was in space. "On the day before it was to return, I told my students I hoped the mission would be successful soon and Kalpana would return. But I remember cautioning them that no mission is over till the astronauts return safely to Earth."

The lady wanted to ask Chawla about her trip. She hoped to pass the information on to the students, some of whom she believes have the potential to become equally successful.

Asked if she regretted Chawla's interest in science, she said, "No, because it was not science that killed Kalpana... I still have great faith in NASA and its capabilities.

"Such incidents, sadly enough, strengthen the critics of science, who believe it to be the cause of all destruction.

"I wish everyone would remember instead that science is the ultimate means for development... This incident will haunt us for a long time. But we should let this memory help us rebuild any loss of faith we might have in science.

"Kalpana should not become a symbol of how a person can lose everything because of science. Instead, she should be remembered as a woman who saw science as her great mission..."

The Columbia Crash: The Complete Coverage

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M D Riti in Bangalore