Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022
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In Her Own Orbit

Did that touring moon-rock ever make it to Karnal? I doubt it but it stays with me—she made it closer to the moon than I ever will.

In Her Own Orbit illustration by Sandeep Adhwaryu

I felt no sense of disbelief or shock when the Columbia shuttle blew up. I felt a sense of deja vu. After disasters such as this, I am the person who wants to know where the rivets and wires were loose, who loosened them, and with which political or financial screwdriver. With the Columbia shuttle there is a difference—Kalpana Chawla's death gets to me.

Watching clips of this cheerful woman smiling and waving, going about her training, sent me back to my childhood. I was four years old when my mother took me to a local stadium to see Valentina Tereshkova. The crowd was huge, Tereshkova only a dot on the distant stage, but I knew from my mother that this Russian chhokri was the first woman ever to fly in space. To me, at the time, 'space' was a different country, not something that was above or all around me but a different place. Over the next few years I became better acquainted with it. I was nine when Neil Armstrong stepped on to the moon, and a few years later I went with my class to see an actual moon-rock the Americans had sent on a tour of major Indian cities.

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