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Shuttle Disaster

Focus on humanity at shuttle service

At a Hindu temple, people of varied religions and backgrounds are united in their grief for the Columbia astronauts.


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2003

TAMPA -- Pawan K. Rattan looked around the Hindu temple during an interfaith memorial service Sunday for the crew of space shuttle Columbia and noticed Jews, Indians and Christians in the crowd.

"We share the uniqueness of one commonality," he said. "We are all human beings."

The crew of Columbia's last mission, which included an Israeli, an Indian and five American-born astronauts, was a "flight of a rainbow of cultures."

More than 100 people went to the Hindu Temple of Florida on Lynn Road to celebrate that diversity.

For Rabbi Eric Lazar, the memorial represented a coming together of cultures that he said benefits everyone.

"Until we can understand each other and come together, we aren't complete," Lazar said.

Members of the Hindu temple gave special attention to astronaut Kalpana Chawla, who was born in Karnal, India, and became the first Indian-American to fly aboard a space shuttle.

"She has become our role model to our children," said Sai Varma, a software engineer in Tampa.

Tampa mayor hopeful Frank Sanchez compared Chawla to his own role model, his mother, who Sanchez said decided to pursue her dreams despite growing up in a culture that encouraged women to stay at home.

"My mother was a young Hispanic woman in 1941 who went to college and became an educator, making a great contribution to her community," Sanchez told the crowd. "Astronaut Chawla also made many choices, and in doing so, she made our lives better."

Sanchez said Chawla's motto was dream, persevere and succeed.

"I hope all of us can use her life and the lives of her colleagues to see what each of us can do if we look beyond ourselves," he said.

Prema Varma of Tampa said as an Indian-American woman, she is inspired by Chawla's achievements.

Though she understands the risks of space travel, she said if men and women were taken out of the equation and replaced with robots, the excitement of space travel would disappear.

"The magic is there because of human beings," she said.

It's a magic, she said, that can never be replaced.

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