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Columbia Shuttle crash: Kalpana's mission ends in tragedy

Whether it was Kalpana Chawla's death in the Columbia crash or the CAT entrance paper leak - India reeled under repeated shocks.

india Updated: Dec 31, 2003 13:24 IST

(Amit Banerjee)

When space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Central Texas at 9 am Eastern Time on February 1, it was not just the seven luckless astronauts on board who died.

The crash took with it America's pretensions as a spacefaring nation; it also destroyed NASA's hegemony in the post-Soviet era and revived bitter memories of the 1986 Challenger disaster that also claimed seven lives. But most importantly it killed joyous celebrations in India where millions had followed local girl Kalpana Chawla's ascent to the stars. Even though Wg Cdr (Retd) Rakesh Sharma, AC, India's first man in space, said death was an occupational hazard every flier faced, it was days before a shocked nation could come to terms with the tragedy. But while the 41-year-old aerospace engineer, who migrated from Karnal to the US in 1982, may be no more, her dreams are clearly alive. Kalpana's husband Jean-Pierre Harrison returned to India in November this year in search of someone as courageous and talented as his wife to work at NASA.

In all seven crewmembers, including Rick Husband (commander), "Willy" McCool (pilot), Ilan Ramon (first Israeli astronaut), Michael Anderson (payload commander), David Brown (mission specialist), Kalpana Chawla (flight engineer) and Laurel Clark (mission specialist) were killed when the shuttle broke apart on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere 16 minutes short of touchdown on February 1. NASA later concluded that the Columbia crash was caused by superheated air entering a hole in the heat shield on the leading edge of the left wing that melted internal aluminum supports.

Pesticide debate takes fizz out of colas

(Suman Tarafdar)

What brought mega brands Coca Cola and Pepsi, whose financial worth put together makes them richer than about half the countries of the world, crying foul piteously to a media conference in Delhi on August 5? The shocking allegation that all the brands manufactured by these companies contained pesticides level well above the European or US standards, though within the Indian limits, was what stirred up a hornet's nest.

While the soft drink giants said they were within Indian norms, which Delhi-based the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the organisation making the accusation, agreed to, CSE pointed out to the fact the norms were extremely lax and wanted major overhaul by the government. Given the immediate financial loss that the two companies faced, and did experience in the immediate aftermath of the announcement, it was no surprise that they went to town crying hoarse. Though a Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up to probe the issue, analysts say the symbolic loss is far more than long-term economic losses.

Though both parties accused each other of mud-slinging, it was the consumer that was left most confused at the end of the day, especially as the union ministry concerned failed to take a clear stand. As the year ends, both Coke and Pepsi have withdrawn their writ petition filed in the Delhi High Court against CSE and the Government of India.

The Cola Imbroglio

First Published: Dec 27, 2003 21:09 IST