Kalpana in mind, Indians send up a prayer for Sunita


New Delhi : Adult or teenager, Hindu or Muslim, Indians of all hues Friday had a prayer on their lips for Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams, a day after bad weather stalled her return to earth from space.

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After Williams' space shuttle Atlantis could not land Thursday due to bad weather, people from Hyderabad to Ahemedabad, Meerut to Karnal prayed for her safe return to earth Friday night.

"Though I did not go to church, I prayed to Jesus that Sunita's space shuttle should land safely on earth. Besides Indians, every one across the globe must be feeling happy at her successful stay in space for a record time of 194 days," said Moses Phillip, a Delhi resident.

While Muslims in Ahmedabad performed prayers, Hindu priests in Allahabad performed rituals for Williams. In Ahmedabad, scores of children and adults holding posters and banners hoped for her safe return.

Students of Meerut University in Uttar Pradesh offered prayers as did students of Tagore Bal Niketan School in Karnal, Haryana, which remembered only too well the tragedy that befell its alma mater, deceased astronaut Kalpana Chawla.

Chawla had died in February 2003 when her space shuttle Columbia crashed while returning to earth.

"We were closely watching the developments Thursday night but after Sunita's landing was deferred by a day, we conducted a special prayer for her," Rajan Lamba, principal of Tagore Bal Niketan, told IANS on telephone.

"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 said.

Christians in the Madhya Pradesh capital of Bhopal prayed for her safety. Father Anand Muttungal, a spokesman of the Catholic Church in Bhopal, had earlier said that Williams had done Indians proud. "God will bring her safely."

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.

Onboard Atlantis, she was earlier scheduled to land on earth Thursday night but bad weather forced her to stay in space for at least one more day.

The shuttle, carrying Williams and six other astronauts and bringing her back from the International Space Station (ISS), had two opportunities to land Thursday but gave up on landing at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida due to thunderstorms.

The shuttle cannot land in rain because that can damage the thousands of ceramic tiles that protect its belly from the fiery heat of re-entry but it has enough fuel and supplies to stay in space until Sunday.

On Friday, the shuttle will get three opportunities to land and the first opportunity for landing at Florida will be at 11.46 p.m. IST.