Indian space scientists and school children alike are expressing shock over the loss of the U-S shuttle Columbia during its descent to Earth with an Indian-born astronaut aboard.
Kalpana Chawla, a 40-year-old U-S citizen born in Karnal, India, was a mission specialist among seven crew members aboard the shuttle, which broke apart over the U-S state of Texas minutes before its scheduled landing Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The front pages of newspapers in India (Saturday) had carried pictures of the 40-year-old woman who was considered a heroine in her home town north of New Delhi and throughout the nation.
Scientists said they were aghast. Hundreds of children who had gathered at her former school to celebrate the expected landing instead went home in shock.
Ms. Chawla graduated from the Tagore Bal Niketan school in Karnal in 1976. She held degrees from Punjab Engineering College in India and the U-S universities of Texas and Colorado. She was an expert in aerodynamics who joined the U-S National Aeronautics and Space Administration as an astronaut in 1994.
Columbia's final space mission was Ms. Chawla's second. She also flew a science mission aboard Columbia in 1997.