July 19, 2008

Astronaut Shares Highs, Lows of His Adventure in Space

By Elizabeth Miller, The Salt Lake Tribune

Jul. 19--It was that call in the middle of the night everyone fears.

NASA astronaut Dan Tani celebrated Christmas and his 47th birthday in the four months he spent late last year as a flight specialist on Expedition 16 on the international space station. But while there, he also became the first astronaut to lose a family member while in orbit.

Tani's mother, Rose, died in a car crash last December.

"The distance wasn't the problem; it was that I was stuck at work," Tani said Friday. "I felt bad for my crew mates. It was difficult when someone else you're stuck with in a tin can is grieving and you're not, so I spent a lot of time putting them at ease as well."

Tani told his story after speaking to about 100 children and adults at the Salt Lake County Library about his life as an astronaut. He's also the keynote speaker at this week's Japanese American Citizens League's national convention at the Salt Lake City Downtown Marriot.

During a multimedia presentation, a photo of his mother appeared briefly, and Tani said every time he talks about his time in space, he thinks of her.

Later, Tani, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an astronaut since 1996, happily fielded the children's questions. "How do you sleep in space?" asked one. "What happens if you run out of gas?" said another.

A native of Chicago, Tani is a third-generation Japanese American and the second Japanese American to fly into space.

He said he's lived and worked at Houston's Johnson Space Center long enough to start saying "ya'll."

And Tani has Utah ties. Twenty years before he was born, his family was imprisoned at a Japanese internment camp in Topaz during World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

His father, mother and 5-week-old brother were moved from their San Francisco home to a nearby racetrack, where they briefly lived in stables before re-locating to the camp in Utah's hot, windy west desert.

Tani said his family got special attention because his brother was so young.

"My mother talked about it as almost a positive thing. They got hot water, milk, things not everyone else got," he said. "I can't imagine living there."

Carol Yoshino, 60, herself a Chicago native, said the entire Japanese-American community is awed by Tani.

"I think the entire community and country is overwhelmingly proud of him," Yoshino said. "He exhibits all those qualities he talked about all astronauts have to have. He's affable and nice, he really has those qualities."


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