| A Nasa employee reacts as Discovery lands. (Reuters)
Aug. 9: It’s okay to breathe again. Discovery is home.
From Karnal to California to Cape Canaveral, the world sighed in relief today as the space shuttle glided safely back to earth, putting at rest the fears raised by the Columbia disaster two-and-a-half years ago.
Nasa employees hugged and broke out in cheers as they watched the live broadcast of the picture-perfect landing, transferred to Edwards Air Force Base in California because of cloudy skies over Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
But the tragic figures of Kalpana Chawla and her six colleagues ' killed as Columbia blew apart minutes before its scheduled landing on February 1, 2003 'weren’t far from people’s thoughts.
“Yeh saari duniya aur insaaniyat ki uplabdhi aur jeet hai (The safe landing is an achievement and victory for the world and humanity),” said Kalpana’s father B.L. Chawla, who had been glued to his TV set in Karnal, Haryana. “I knew Kalpana’s sacrifice would not go in vain.”
Chawla stressed that the Columbia tragedy had provided a roadmap to Nasa to rectify the problems that led to its disintegration.
“They knew about Columbia’s problems and they repaired them in Discovery. Had it not been for Columbia’s sacrifice, Discovery would have ended in tragedy.”
London Times reporter Jacqui Goddard, who watched the landing with Nasa chiefs at Cape Canaveral, described the “great sense of relief” he saw around him.
“Dr Mike Griffin, the head of Nasa, said after the launch that he wouldn’t breathe out until he had ‘wheel-stop’ on the ground,” Goddard reported. “There were a lot of people here who were exhaling as it happened.”
So was Commander Eileen Collins, who piloted the shuttle in the final stages of its return. “Happy to be back,” she said moments after Nasa mission control announced “Discovery is home.”
At Karnal’s Tagore Bal Niketan Senior Secondary School, where Kalpana studied, teachers and students wore her favourite colour, red, as they held a special prayer for a safe landing by Discovery.
“It is a special day for all of us' (our) prayers have been answered,” said principal Rajan Kumar Lamba.
The space shuttle had carried photographs of Kalpana and her six colleagues. The picture of Kalpana was from her college days, showing her surrounded by photographs of aircraft and one of a space shuttle.
“As a father, I knew she was always with them (the Discovery crew), guiding them, inspiring them,” Chawla said. “The whole crew of Columbia to me was inside Discovery today.”
(Gajinder Singh in Chandigarh and agency reports)