Bahai News -- The Mercury News - Memorial services across California honor astronauts Posted on Sun, Feb. 02, 2003

Memorial services across California honor astronauts

A wooden cross and flowers mark an area near the side of the road in Hemphill, Texas, where human remains from the space shuttle
were discovered on Saturday.
AP photo
A wooden cross and flowers mark an area
near the side of the road in Hemphill, Texas,
where human remains from the space shuttle
were discovered on Saturday.
SUNNYVALE, Calif. (AP) - About 100 people gathered at a local temple in business suits and saris to remember one of their own -- the first Indian-born woman in space.

Kalpana Chawla, 41, was one of seven astronauts killed Saturday when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas, scattering debris across hundreds of square miles.

Atulya Sarin, now a Santa Clara University professor of finance, was the astronaut's high school classmate in Karnal, India, a small, industrial town near Delhi.

``The thing that strikes me is every conversation with her was fairly stimulating, not just which movie did you see lately,'' he said outside the strip mall temple, which doubles as a community center. ``Once she explained to me, when I was going through a rough patch, an analogy to rock climbing: 'Focus on the next step, not on the ultimate goal.' That's how she was. She pushed herself every step of the way ... For her, every step was a great achievement.''

The daughter of a wealthy factory-owning family, Chawla left India in the early 1980s to study engineering in the United States. Chawla married Jean-Pierre Harrison in 1984 and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where they lived and worked for about five years -- she as a NASA contractor and he as a flying instructor in Palo Alto.

Chawla left the Bay Area after she was accepted into NASA's space program in 1994.

That didn't stop mourners from gathering Sunday. They chanted, sang and burned candles and incense.

``These people belong to different countries and religions and ethnicities,'' said center director Raj Bhanot. ``But they all had one goal, one common mission -- to be the best.''

Vishvaroop Agarwal, 35, of Redwood City didn't know Chawla, but said he also came to the United States to further his education.

"She is a great role model and example for the Indian community, but also for everyone,'' he said. ``For her to have become an astronaut, it was an amazing feat. Hopefully, she will give us all the strength and courage to imitate her, to have a dream and to have confidence in ourselves."

At the Baha'i Center in Los Angeles, the seven astronauts were remembered with a mix of songs, prayers and tributes.

``We're here to honor those that were lost and to remember their loved ones who are going through such pain and agony,'' said Jamie Heath, a church member who led the service for some 300 others.

``We're here to recognize them, remember them,'' he said.

The service began with a moment of silence and the mood was sober yet hopeful as church members celebrated the courage of the astronauts and sought to offer hope to their survivors and to their own community.

Readings from the Koran, the Bible, Buddhism and Hinduism were interspersed with songs and prayers. The Baha'i faith teaches that all religions come from God and offer the same truth.

``It is in times like these that we come together to seek the comfort and solace of community prayer,'' said Randolph Dobbs, secretary of the spiritual assembly of the Baha'is in Los Angeles.

©Copyright 2003, The Mercury News (CA, USA)

Following are the URLs to the originals of this story. The sites may have removed or archived the story. URLs:
[Contra Costa Times, CA]
[Sarasota Herald-Tribune, FL]
[San Jose Mercury News, CA]
[San Francisco Chronicle, CA]
[Press-Enterprise, CA]
[2/3/03 NapaNet Daily News, CA]

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