July 29, 2008

Local Astronaut Safely Returns to Earth

By Catherine Edman

[email protected]@dailyherald.com

On what would have been his mother's 91st birthday, Lombard astronaut Dan Tani finally returned to Earth.

"We know she was here with us," his sister, Christine Tani, said Wednesday after watching her little brother's space shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Rose Tani died in an accident shortly before Christmas - in the middle of her son's extended stay in orbit.

After four months on the International Space Station, the death of his mother, and repeated delays in catching a flight home, the Lombard native made it back to terra firma in a problem-free landing.

"I can just feel the relief," Christine Tani said from Florida, where she, her brother, Dick, and Dan's pastor gathered to offer a greeting party.

Tani lifted-off aboard the shuttle Endeavor in October expecting to spend the next eight weeks in space.

Then problems with sensors in the external fuel tanks of the shuttle Atlantis delayed the next launch - and his flight home - again and again.

While he conducted a full-schedule of experiments, took numerous space walks to repair a damaged solar array and enjoyed spectacular views of Earth, he suffered an almost unspeakable tragedy.

Rose Tani died shortly before Christmas when she drove her car around the gates at a railway crossing and was struck by a train.

Tani was stuck in space with no way home while the rest of his family conducted her memorial service and grieved in the company of loved ones.

Christine Tani said when her family heard the landing was set for Feb. 20, they thought it was fitting because it was the their mom's birthday - and Rose was Dan's biggest fan.

So far, she said, Tani is handling his return to gravity well, though he's tired from his lengthy mission. His young daughters, Keiko and Lily, remembered their father when they had the chance to see him Wednesday and "were jumping all over him," his sister said.

In other words, she said, "he's thrilled to be back."

(c) 2008 Daily Herald; Arlington Heights, Ill.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.