Robert Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images
Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli (rear) and his crewmates of the space shuttle Discovery (L-R) Scott Parazynski, Daniel Tani and Stephanie Wilson, Oct. 10, 2007 at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli (rear) and his crewmates of the space shuttle Discovery (L-R) Scott Parazynski, Daniel Tani and Stephanie Wilson, Oct. 10, 2007 at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Robert Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images
New words, like bytes and blogs, get developed for new technologies. Maybe there is some word to be minted for the mix of grief, pride and sorrow that Daniel Tani might feel aboard the International Space Station.
While Tani circles the world as an astronaut this weekend, his mother, Rose Tani, will be buried in suburban Chicago. She died Wednesday in a car crash, at the age of 90.
A rocket ship can put him into space. Satellites can instantly transmit the news of his mother's death and the comfort of calls from his wife, brothers and sister.
But Daniel Tani cannot return to Earth until Jan. 10. A Soyuz rescue vehicle is attached to the station; but it cannot be used to return him without risking that it won't be available if his fellow astronauts have an emergency.
Rose Tani was born in California. But her family, along with so many other Japanese-American families, was interned in a camp for two years during World War II. After their release, they settled in Chicago.
Rose Tani and her husband Henry had five children; Daniel was the youngest. Henry Tani died when Daniel was just 5 years old. Mother and son became extremely close. He seemed enthralled by the toy rockets and planes that she gave him.
Daniel went to MIT, and became an astronaut.
He has been in space twice. Rose Tani came to each of his launches, watching her son ride a fireball into the sky. She was an active member of her church, especially with its feeding program for the homeless.
Last month, when Daniel Tani was on a spacewalk, he told ground control: "I know my mom's watching on the Internet in Chicago, so, 'Hi mom!' It's always fun to have your folks watch you."
Pictures of the Tani family hang in a hall of Glenbard East High School, from which Dan Tani graduated. They show not just the astronaut in his orange flight suit, but an American family that faced down discrimination, worked hard, and do honor to their country.
On Friday, Dan Tani sent down a statement from orbit: "My mother was a complete joy," he said. "Those who knew her will know that words cannot describe her vitality, generosity and warmth. She was my hero ... Living on the space station means 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 and I fully accept that I will proudly complete my mission."
In this season that celebrates a mother's undying love, and the closeness between mother and son, you may want to hold a thought in your heart for Daniel Tani; especially when he returns to Earth and finds the world he has been circling a little more sad. And you might want to hold a thought for other sons and daughters who are kept a world away by duty, but are close in so many hearts.