Prime Minister Narendra Modi today began his three-day US visit by laying a wreath at the Tomb of Unknown Soldiers and paying homage to Indian-American astronaut late Kalpana Chawla at Arlington National Cemetery here.
“Honouring sacrifice, saluting valour. Formal engagements begin with a solemn ceremony,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted.
“In homage to heroism and indomitable courage,” Swarup said in another tweet.
Modi also had a brief interaction with the husband and family members of Chawla, senior officials from NASA, Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams and her father at Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial.
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter accompanied the Prime Minister. Indian Ambassador to the US Arun K Singh, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, US Ambassador to India Richard Verma and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal were also present on the occasion.
“All of us are very honoured that he took time to come and acknowledge the shuttle catastrophe and the deep cooperation that we have with India in the space world,” Williams told PTI.
“Personally it is commemorating my friend (Kalpana Chawla),” 50-year-old Williams said.
Modi spoke to Williams’ father in Gujarati and invited them to visit India.
“With health permitting, I definitely look forward to visiting India,” her father said.
Chawla’s husband Jean-Pierre Harrison presented a set of books on the late astronaut, including a biography written by him, to the Prime Minister.
Modi inquired about him and also asked about the colourful jacket he was wearing. Harrison said he got it from Gujarat.
Chawla was the first woman of Indian-origin in space. In 2003, Chawla was one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
The Tomb of the Unknowns is a monument dedicated to American service members who have died without their remains being identified.