Saturday, July 28, 2007

Landing Mrs. Daisy

It was June 23rd, 2007 & I was glued to my TV-set at the wee hours of that morning... Space shuttle, Atlantis (carrying Sunita Williams), was to land! An event of great pride, achievement & historic importance to science, technology & womankind, per se!

Having the TV on wasn't enough for me... I hated it when the news channels went in for commercial breaks or for other news telecasts! What could be more important than Atlantis at this hour! So, I was constantly checking the NASA website & other related news-sites for any updates. I was hungry for information & nothing seemed to quench. Mom had pestered me to have dinner & sleep early as I was to wake up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning, but I didn't care. Food & sleep were nowhere on my priority list at that time... In fact, nothing else was. They were landing Sunita & that's all that mattered!!!

It was getting exciting by the minute & by now I had 10 windows open on my desktop all giving the latest updates regarding Atlantis' progress. I so wanted it to be a success. Kalpana's earlier Columbia disaster was haunting me & I was making effort to get rid of those thoughts as I optimistically watched & surfed on...

I was all sucked up into a frenzy, that I had no control over.
Just then the g-talk window popped up with Daisy (name changed) saying "Hi". She was online & initiated the chat.

Daisy has been a very close friend of mine for nearly 10 years now... I've been a confidant of sorts for her... We've been with each other thru' our ups & downs. Two years back she got married to a handsome guy working & settled in the US. It was an arranged marriage & Daisy left for the foreign land with her partner. She was both, excited & apprehensive at the same time. After all, she had quit her job and was leaving her family for an unknown land to be with this new person in her life.
A strange kind of glow of maturity shone on her face then... She had grown overnight!

Women, I feel, have this uncanny ability of growing fast to adapt to changing situations. Men are more lethargic and take longer. She had realized that now she had a family of her own, a new relationship to nurture, greater responsibilities & commitments to fulfil... She's slipped into her new role pretty well and is comfortable with it now. She has a few months' old daughter today & they symbolize a neat, happy, well-settled family :)

Well, I was a bit irritated then, as I was in no mood to discuss the typical "how u're doing" stuff... Greater events, I thought, were occuring which I didn't wanna miss. I was in no mood of telling her that my job sucked & I was contemplating quitting or that I had a football match to play within the next few hours. But then, at times courtesy & decency have made me do things against my will & I blame my upbringing for that ;)

"Hey, what's happening? U up so late?", she enquired...
"Oh, nothing... Just time-pass", I replied, knowing she does not share my interest for astronomy & space.
"U know, Suzy might be going around with this guy...", she said.
Girls need no 'preface'. They can delve into the middle of a conversation even with their very first sentence!
"Oh, I see", I replied. I was more interested in 'Suni' than Suzy's love-interests.
Then she sent me a link to her daughter's photos. They were cute, I must admit. (No courtesy here :))
"She's damn cute", I replied, ALT-TAB'ing to check some photos of Atlantis too...
"And what about me, u think I've grown too fat?", she asked.
Girls have this perpetual doubt that they are looking fat. And "no" is an answer they take with great skepticism!
Now I hadn't seen her photo before closing the link, but then have an idea of what a new mother-of-few-months-old would look like. So I replied diplomatically, "Isn't pregnancy-flab supposed to stay on the mother for sometime, but where's yours?"
"Liar!" was her reply.

By now, I had devoured most news-updates regarding Atlantis & nothing new was coming up on the net. So Daisy's statement "I wanna discuss something, that's bothering me" caught my attention.
"U have my complete attention", I said, a bit dishonestly.
"I feel like coming to India & taking up a job", she said.
"What!!!" was my reaction.
"U see, I couldn't work last year & this year I've not appeared in the random-selection list for the H1-B visa quota. That means, I can't work for yet another year! And the year later, there are no guarantees either...", she explained.

"First two attempts to land Atlantis were unsuccessful due to bad weather" read a news-site.

"I mean i feel i am wasting my skill sitting at home... I can gain experience n' money. I just want to work for a year in India & get back", she continued...
I was a bit blanked out by the pace at which she was throwing ideas at me. I was busy analysing the impact of her actions, more than analysing her situation.

From the time NASA had decided to launch the Atlantis for a trip to the ISS, it has been a roller coaster ride for the authorities, crew as well as the people down on Earth. Now, Atlantis was all set to return along with astronaut Sunita Williams.

"U see, I quit my job, left my family & country to be here", she started rationalizing...

Initially just after the space shuttle docked to the space station, the crew and the authorities at NASA found that there was a little damage to the thermal blanket that protects a space shuttle during the re-entry.

"But now I'd also feel guilty if my daughter gets neglected if I work. She needs me", Daisy went on.
"Child is the couple's responsibility, not just mother's", I told her. "Keep the whole guilt-business out of this... These are decisions & choices that all modern day couples & mothers have to make... All can be worked out with understanding & cooperation... These r genuine issues & can be worked out rationally... Just have patience...", I tried to calm her.

"Also, I'm really missing home", admitted Daisy.

"I have been spending a little more time than usual looking out of the window (of the space station). I got another overwhelming feeling of wanting to land.", said Sunita.

By now I was equally enthralled by Suni & Daisy. Both had set on a mission, both were still in orbit & both wanted to land so desperately.

"My hubby sulked the last time I introduced this topic", Daisy kept narrating.

The weather was still not clear for Atlantis to land.

"But can't u search for a job while staying in US itself?
Maybe something like an onsite contract project that Indian companies would anyways want to hire on B1/L1 visas...", I asked.

The landing would be done at the Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, California in case of poor weather conditions around the landing-strip at the Kennedy Space Centre, Cape Canaveral, Florida, said the latest update.

"It's not that easy looking for that kind of job, whilst being here", she said... "Everything is so uncertain & murky. I wish it was clearer... Or maybe, I could drag this way for a year & then see...", she went on...

Norm Knight, Flight Director said, "Obviously, I would like clear skies, unlimited visibility and little wind, but unfortunately those are not the cards we’re typically dealt. Atlantis has enough supplies to stay in space until Sunday if necessary." He said this at the Johnson Space Center.

"But u could at least give it a try..." I coerced...

"Hmmm... I think i'll give it a try. Hope something works out. Chalo, me logging off now", she said.
"It definitely will. Good bye & take care.", I reassured her.

After enormous hurdles and hours in the sky trying to safely land the Atlantis, the astronauts finally managed to do so at the Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, California at 0119 IST. Sunita ‘Suni’ Williams and shuttle commander Rick Sturckow were amongst the seven astronauts who landed safely.

Finally, the moment of glory that I was so desperately waiting for. I was so proud, relieved and happy.

But something was missing... It didn't feel complete.
Suni had landed, but Daisy's still in orbit. She's helpless at times, but she's fighting on... Optimist that the weather will clear soon & things will fall in place...

I'll do all that's in my power for her & will look forward & follow-up with the same frenzy for the 'landing' of Mrs. Daisy.

Acknowledgments -
Painting illustration - Ali Spagnola