Toronto Star

Delay in return home adds to astronaut’s grief

Mother died while he’s on space station mission


CHICAGO— Astronaut Daniel Tani had hoped to spend Christmas with his family, but that was before fuel tank problems scrapped two scheduled December launches of the space shuttle Atlantis, which would have taken him home from the internatio­nal space station. Now the launch delay — until late January or February — has become increasing­ly frustratin­g. Tani’s mother, Rose, 90, was killed Dec. 19 at a railroad crossing in Lombard, Ill., when she drove into the path of an oncoming freight train. Family say she was in excellent health and had sharp wits. NASA has said Tani is the first American to lose a close family member while in space. He missed his mother’s funeral, and the delays of the shuttle launch mean more time away from his grieving family. ARussian rescue vehicle lodged at the space station is to take astronauts back to Earth only in the case of extreme technical difficulti­es or if astronauts’ lives are in danger. “They recognize when they go on a long-duration flight what their ride home is,” said NASA spokespers­on Kyle Herring. Herring said the Atlantis mission, which will launch Jan. 24 at the earliest, and more likely in February, will take 13 days. Tani was notified of his mother’s death by a phone call from NASA officials, who ask crew members in advance whether they want to be notified of such occurrence­s while in space.

Tani videotaped a message played at his mother’s memorial service Dec. 23.

Tani’s siblings said he is frustrated by the delay and is eager to see his family, but has turned to his love of space to help deal with grief. That includes daily work, exercise and preparing for a space walk.

His brother Dick Tani, 65, a retired actuary in the Chicago area, said Daniel was on the phone with family members for hours on the day Rose died. Though civilians cannot call him, Tani can make calls from the space station via satellite.

In a Dec. 21 statement, Tani said: “Living on the space station means that I experience all aspects of life — be they joyous or tragic — while circling the Earth without a convenient way to return. Of course, I was aware of this situation before my mission.’’

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