By Shakti Bhatt
Fazia Rizvi signs all her emails ad astra, which is Latin for ‘to the stars’.
As a child she wanted to become an astronaut. She would ask her parents to take her to the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, every summer.
“I am the kind of person who wants to chase a night-time thunderstorm until I can see it from a high vantage point and actually witness red sprites and other recently discovered lightening phenomenon,” she said.
Rizvi heard of Kalpana Chawla in 1997 when the latter went into space for the first time.
“I was immediately fascinated by her life and what she had been through to become an astronaut,” said Rizvi, who grew up near Chawla’s residence.
Rizvi now works as a webmaster for the Southwest Texas State University. She could not join the space centre because of acute myopia. However, she lived her dreams through her ‘personal heroine’.
“Being of South Asian ancestry I admire her endlessly for breaking all the traditional barriers a woman would face,” Rizvi, born to an Indian father and a Finnish mother, said. “She also married outside of her culture and religion, which again is a very difficult thing to do.”
For Dr Vijaya Appareddy of Tennessee, who was recently appointed to the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation, the news of the shuttle explosion led her thoughts to May 2002. The president had invited Appareddy and several other Asian Americans to the White House to celebrate the Asian Pacific American Heritage month.
Chawla was one of the invitees. “I was so excited to meet her,” said Appareddy, who is also the Chair, Board of Trustees of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin.
“I had read a lot about her. She approached me and we started to talk about ways in which we could empower women in India,” Appareddy added. “For her, education was a really big thing.”
Savita Kini, who was a volunteer with the Association for India’s Development in California, got a chance to hear Chawla at a talk organised by the Indo American Community Centre in 1999.
“I remember her looking so puny on that huge stage,” said Kini, a software engineer in San Jose. “Despite all her achievements, she was really humble and modest.”
A member of the Peninsula Astronomical Society, Kini is an avid space enthusiast. “It was overwhelming to listen to what she had gone through,” she said.
“What shocked me was that she was just like us... she went through the same path.
“While most of us are still here trying to make it, she is the one who really made it.”