September 29, 2008

Safe, Sound and on the Ground Lombard Astronaut Back From Space Mission, Rehab

By Catherine Edman

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Back home for the first time since concluding a fourth-month space mission, Lombard astronaut Dan Tani thanked those who sought to lessen the tragedy of his mother's death.

One Lombard police officer in particular, someone whose name Tani never learned, went above and beyond what was required upon learning Rose Tani was the driver of a car killed last December in a collision with a train.

Tani said the officer located the astronaut's office at NASA quickly and set into motion the process of notifying him aboard the International Space Station that his mother had died. It was the first time in NASA's history an astronaut has experienced such a close personal tragedy while on a space mission.

"I'm sure I heard hours before others," Tani said during a press conference held at First Church of Lombard.

Though he and wife Jane arrived in the area Saturday from their home in Houston, one of the first places they visited was the train crossing that was the site of his mother's accident. "It was very moving," he said.

Rose, 90, who was stopped behind a school bus for a passing train, pulled around the bus and accidentally into the path of another train coming from the opposite direction after the safety gates raised and then lowered again. Christine Tani, Dan's sister, said they eventually learned their mother was headed for the Walgreen's across the tracks.

Dan shot into space in October expecting to spend eight weeks aboard the space station. Problems with the fuel system in the shuttle that was bound to retrieve him eventually doubled the length of his stay, and he returned to Earth two months ago.

Upon reaching terra firma, Tani then spent six weeks debriefing and in a rehabilitation program designed to get his body used to living in gravity again.

He explained that for six months after returning from a long mission, astronauts are not assigned to technical jobs and instead work a lot on public affairs. Tani will speak at Glenbard East High School, where he graduated, later this week, and he has other such engagements scheduled through the coming months.

Though his mission - including a total of five space walks - turned out to be more than he'd expected, Tani said it's the other aspects surrounding space travel that would factor into a decision to return, if asked.

"The stuff they teach you really is pretty easy," he said.

Tani spent three years away from his family, which now includes two young daughters, while training for five and a half years before launch.

"There's nothing that would make me think I wouldn't go again," he said.

But that time away from home, he said, would cause his only hesitation.

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