Priests, teachers and students at a Haryana school, the alma mater of deceased astronaut Kalpana Chawla, are praying for the safe return of Indian American Sunita Williams from space on Thursday night.
"Our school has a lot of memories attached with Kalpana. There is a sense of fear among us and we wish it never happens again with anyone," Rajan Lamba, principal of the Tagore Bal Niketan School, said about Chawla's death aboard the space shuttle Columbia which crashed in February 2003.
"We teachers and some of our students are offering prayers in our schools for Sunita. Along with us, seven priests have been offering special prayers for two hours everyday since Wednesday for her safe return," Lamba told IANS on telephone from Karnal where the school is based.
Williams has set a world record for the longest space stay by any woman astronaut. Williams, who has stayed 194 days in space, has surpassed the 188-day, four-hour mark set by US astronaut Shannon Lucid in 1996 on a mission to the Russian Mir space station.
Sunita became the world's most experienced woman walker in space on February 4 with four excursions spread over 29 hours and 17 minutes to top Kathy Thornton's 21-hour space walking record. On board space shuttle Atlantis, she is scheduled to land on earth June 21 night.
The principal said the crash of the Columbia space shuttle along with Kalpana Chawla was still fresh in their minds.
"O god, the supreme soul...bring back our Sunita without any mishap. We are sure, god will listen to us this time," an emotional Lamba said. "She is an embodiment of woman power and has made both India and the US proud."
On Wednesday, two schools - one in Amritsar, Punjab, and another in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, also offered prayers for the safe return of Williams.