Monday, September 14, 2009

The mighty Brahmaputra, Bihu dance and the Chandrayaan... makes for a fascinating read!

The other day... while reading the Bangalore Mirror, dated 11th Sept., 2009... I came across an interesting piece of news. My curiosity aroused, I decided to find more details about it... and having done that... I feel like to share it here. *smiling*

Contrary to popular notion that the Great Wall of China is visible from space, a top NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) astronaut claimed that it is the mighty river Brahmaputra and the Pyramids that can been seen from space and not the Chinese marvel. "It is almost impossible to see the Great Wall of China. But the mighty Brahmaputra and the Pyramids are visible from space," Col Edward Michael Fincke, who has spent over one year in space in two missions on board the International Space Station (ISS) and has been selected by NASA to go there again in 2010, said.

- "The Great Wall of China is very long but it is made out of local material which has no contrast. It is camouflaged by natural material, making it almost impossible to identify," Fincke, who is on a visit to Assam and Meghalaya (the word "Meghalaya" literally means, "The Abode of Clouds" in Sanskrit and other Indic languages) to meet his in-laws, said. His wife, Renita Saikia from Assam (in India) is an engineer with NASA. Asked about the prospects of space tourism, he said, "My eyes have seen many wondrous things while I was in space. I wish all could see what I had seen. Hopefully, space tourism would offer this in future. Now only the rich can go, and I am looking forward for the day when an average person can go to space."

Fincke has been selected by NASA to go to space again in 2010 as Mission Specialist (on STS-134, which will be his first flight on a Space Shuttle and his third space mission overall). He had served as the space station science officer and flight engineer for ISS Expedition 9 (April 18 through October 23, 2004) and another six months as Commander for Expedition 18 in 2008-09 (Oct. 12, 2008, to April 8, 2009, launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, aboard the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft). As the ISS Commander, he and his three-member crew helped prepare the station for a future six-person crew and hosted the Space Shuttle crews of STS-126 and STS-119. The expedition concluded with undocking from the station and safe landing back in Kazakhstan after nearly seven months. He was also the back-up Commander for Expedition 13 and Expedition 16.

Known as the first person to have performed the Assamese folk dance - Bihu - in space (in zero gravity in the ISS), he had taken a token of love from Assam - the Gamosa (towel) - during his last space mission... i.e., his second Space mission in 2008-09 (with due permission from NASA of course) and then brought it back with autographs of other astronauts. "I am bringing with me to the International Space Station a 'gamocha' and some 'Bihu' music to remind me of your beautiful state. I may even try the first 'Bihu' dance in space, and when I fly over India I will look for the mighty Brahmaputra river to guide my heart to Assam. Happy Bihu!" he wrote (in an e-mail correspondence with The Telegraph). Eager to carry another token from the region during his forthcoming space mission, Fincke said, "this time also I will carry something spectacular from North East. But I am yet to decide on it." Therefore, during the festive season of the year 2004... Bihu songs were heard 240 miles away - from the earth, that is! Even the 'gamosa' travelled a great distance...

Origin of the name 'gamosa': Literally translated, it means 'something to wipe the body with' (Ga=body, mosa=to wipe) however, interpreting the word 'gamosa' as the 'body-wiping towel' is misleading. The word 'gamosa' is derived from the Kamrupi word 'gaamasa' (gaama+chadar), the cloth used to cover the Bhagavad Purana at the altar. The 'Gamosa' is an article of great significance for the people of Assam.

The NASA astronaut, who had attended separate felicitations by the governments of Assam and Meghalaya, is also attending three interactive sessions with students from different schools and colleges. Last January, during his six months stay in Space aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Fincke had interacted (live) with students of four educational institutes from Assam and Meghalaya from space.

According to reports, the Assamese school students were greatly impressed by NASA astronaut Edward Michael Finke, who was onboard the ISS. The man spoke to the students in their native language while an extraordinary live interaction from the space lab was being conducted. When asked whether he could speak Assamese, Mike Finke, who is married to an Assamese Renita Saikia, said, "Moi alop kobo paru." (I can speak a little). A loud round of applause from the students of Assam Jatiya Vidyalalya was received by Fincke, who is learning Assamese during his space stint, during a telephonic interaction from International Space Station (ISS) organized by the Friends of Assam and Seven Sisters (FASS), an organization of non-resident Assamese, in coordination with NASA.

- "The members eat normal food like hamburgers and sausages on the spaceship but they are mostly packed food, prepared on ground but we do heat these sometimes," said Fincke, to the students. The man is also the commander of the current expedition 18 mission of the ISS. He further informed the students, "Water on the spaceship is used just like back in the planet but we recycle both water and urine." (The link is: HERE).

While speaking at a function organised by the 'Friends of Assam and Seven Sisters' (FASS) to accord public felicitation to him and his family members at the Machkhowa Pragjyoti ITA Centre for Performing Arts in Guwahati on September 3, 2009... Col. Fincke urged the young generations of North East India to have big dreams and work hard. "Have big dreams and work hard, nothing is impossible," he said. The NASA astronaut said that if one dreams to go to the moon, one can. "If you have a dream, work on it. We have the desire to show the young people that if we work in a planned manner and in coordination, we can accomplish what we want to do."

He also informed the gathering that in his boyhood he had a dream to go to space one day... but his family did not have the money. However, his family with the help of other people could make him translate his dreams into reality, he said, suggesting that all hurdles could be overcome if one has the strong will to accomplish something. Referring to the view of the NE from the space, he said that the lush green NE India with the mighty Brahmaputra flowing through it was seen while aboard the ISS. Fincke presented the 'gamosa' he carried to ISS as a token of love for the people of the state to the Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi. The 'gamosa' contained signatures and photos of his colleague astronauts and authenticated by NASA. Presenting the 'gamosa', Mike said that he had brought it back from the space as a souvenir. The astronaut, who relishes traditional Assamese cuisine, tasted some special fish preparations like Masor Tenga and Masor Muror Khar with aromatic joha rice. (The rest of the report can be read: HERE). More pics of his visit to Assam on September 02, 2009, can be seen: HERE.

From the tangy fish curry to the very typical Assamese delicacy khar and a penchant for the foot stomping 'Bihu' dance of Assam, US astronaut Mike Fincke loves almost everything about this northeastern Indian state. "I really relish Assamese food… Mashor Tenga (sour fish curry) and khar… oh I love that," Mike told IANS. Now on a visit to Assam (and its main city Guwahati to attend a series of functions) flanked by his wife and three children, Chandra, Surya, and Tarali, Mike is simply at awe. "Assam is one of the beautiful places on the planet, and today I am really glad I am here. People here are simple and intelligent, very warm and hospitable. I love Bihu (dance and song) and never miss an opportunity to take part in the festivity celebrated by the Assamese community back in the US," Mike said. "I saw the Brahmaputra from space and today I have seen with my own eyes and it is indeed a pleasure to be by the side of this great river," Mike said. Renita is equally delighted to be home. "I am indeed very happy to be in my native land and look forward to spending some time here," she said. And Mike assured tea planters here he would take a packet of the famous Assam tea to space on his next voyage. (Courtesy: this report)

NASA astronaut Colonel Edward Michael Fincke, also known as Mike Fincke, is the first person to have performed the Assamese folk dance, Bihu, onboard the International Space Station (ISS). But, he does not want to be the last person to have done this in space. Sharing experiences of dancing the 'Bihu' dance in zero gravity condition, Colonel Fincke told about 900 students during an interactive meet in Guwahati, on Monday (7th Sept, 2009) that he would like to see some from among them perform the 'Bihu' at the ISS. He was confident that one day astronauts from the State would travel to space.

The Pragjyoti ITA Centre for Performing Arts at Machkhowa here turned into a NASA training room, preparing astronauts for a space voyage, with Colonel Fincke giving elaborate replies to about 80 questions posed to him by a student representative from each school. That makes it 80 schools totally! The day-long session, which lasted for more than five hours, was facilitated by the 'Friends of Assam and Seven Sisters' (FASS), of which Colonel Fincke is a life member. The questions ranged from the experience of dancing 'Bihu' in space, adaptation in zero gravity condition, protecting the ISS from high speed dust particles or meteorites, to what went wrong with the Space Shuttle carrying Kalpana Chawla and six other astronauts, designing a space ship, space elevators, life beyond earth and the experience of casting vote for the United States Presidential election from the ISS. After this interaction, Colonel Fincke, married to Assamese engineer at NASA Renita Saikia and popularly called "Assam's son-in-law," received a new identity and became "Mike Mama" (Assamese for 'maternal uncle') for the students. The students were overjoyed to listen to the astronaut reply to them in Assamese. (Reports: The Hindu)

Colonel Michael Fincke fell in love with Assam on his first visit to Assam many years ago. He has gone to Space twice and during his first mission in 2004, he literally took hundreds of pictures of the North East, its scenic beauty and the river Brahmaputra from space. His six-month mission was a huge success, which included four spacewalks!

Mike Fincke is endearingly called 'Asomor Jowai' (Assam's son-in-law... in the Assamese language) - he is married to Assamese-American Renita Saikia, who also works as an engineer with NASA and together, they have three children: Chandra, Tarali, and newborn Surya. 'Tarali' means 'starlight' in Assamese, while 'Chandra' means the 'moon' and 'Surya' means the 'Sun'. Infact, Fincke was the first astronaut to become a father while he was still in space! Michael Fincke is conversant in Japanese and Russian... and has acquired a functional knowledge of Assamese. His parents, Edward and Alma Fincke reside in Emsworth, Pennsylvania while his wife Renita's parents, Rupesh and Probha Saikia formerly of Assam, India reside in Houston, Texas.

In June 2004, his second child - Tarali - was born and made history! She is the first baby to be born to an astronaut while he was in space! Much excitement surrounded the birth. There was a full NASA team in place with the logistics of having the baby - from security to making sure Mike was involved in the birth. As Renita - his wife - was in the delivery room having the baby, she spoke to Mike on her cellular telephone. Mike heard Tarali's first cries and was even able to see her with the NASA-provided video-conferencing equipment! Renita's first days 'home' were at her parents' home... which is near her own. They greeted her and her new born baby with 'dhoop' and 'saki' with all their blessings. Finally, when Mike came home... he said: "Hi," to Tarali at the airport, "my name is Daddy". Before embarking on that mission... despite the joy, he was a trifle worried. As he put it... "If something goes wrong, I can't get the next flight back home." Renita, describes her husband as a "jolly good man". For the couple, it was love at first sight. "I liked Mike for his intelligence and he is so articulate… he is the perfect man for me," wife Renita told IANS as Mike blushed.

Chandrayaan not a failure: According to Fincke, the Indian moon mission - "Chandrayaan" (lit: Moon-vehicle) - was not a failure but an amazing success as it achieved 95 per cent of its objectives. "There is a lot of speculation about the mission being failed. On the contrary, it was a success with 95 per cent of its objectives achieved," Fincke, a veteran of two missions in the International Space Station (ISS), told reporters here in Guhawati. "This not the official view but my own perspective as an astronaut and the fact that Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was able to put a satellite to orbit the moon and plant the Indian Flag on the surface of the moon is indeed amazing." The NASA astronaut, currently on a 11-day visit to the North East, interacted with nearly five thousand students and professors of schools, colleges, universities and the local IIT (i.e., the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati... during the annual techno-management festival of IIT-G, "Techniche 2009"). "NASA has sponsored my trip to the region. We can do a lot to promote interest in space exploration in the region. Personally, I will keep the communication open and we will find a way through different channels," he said. Incidentally, the IIT - G campus is on a sprawling 700 acres plot of land located on the north bank of the river Brahmaputra around 20 kms. from the heart of the city. It has the majestic Brahmaputra on one side, and hills and vast open spaces on others.

For a kid, President Bush is just another man: The Assamese wife of US astronaut recalls how their son shook hands with the world's (then) most powerful man. In June, 2005, the then US President George W. Bush hosted Chandra and his 11-month-old sister Tarali, children of astronaut Mike Fincke and his Assamese wife Renita Saikia, along with their parents and the family of Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. The White House reception was to honour Mike and Gennady for their mission to the International Space Station Alpha, where they spent six months last year. The star of the reception, however, turned out to be Chandra. "I am proud to say that our son Chandra may be amongst the first Assamese to shake President Bush's hand!" Renita, who is a NASA engineer, told The Telegraph over email.

The Fincke kids were quite excited on reaching the White House, but probably had no idea what an honour it was for the family to be visiting the President of the United States, Renita wrote. "Chandra was anxious to get out of his suit jacket and Tarali just wanted to be put down and walk everywhere. But by the time Mike, Renita and Chandra were busy posing for photographs with the world's most powerful political leader, Tarali was fast asleep in her father's arms. As we walked up to the President, I apologised for Tarali being asleep, and his comment was: 'I guess she must have known I was getting ready to give a speech'," Renita said.

Kids really know what to do... in any situation... naturally... !!! What say... ?!!

P.S. I am finally done with writing this post. I should have completed it earlier... but thanks to some terrible power outages in the last three days... a joint effort by the 'Rain God' and KEB (Karnataka Electricity Board)... that it ran into 'extra time' and 'injury time' plus some more. *grrrr, double grrrr, multiple grrrr*


1. A picture of the Brahmaputra river (Picture courtesy: Bangalore Mirror, dated 11th Sept., 2009)

2. NASA Astronaut Edward Michael "Mike" Fincke being felicitated by the Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, as Mike's wife Renita Saikia looks on in Guwahati on September 02, 2009. (Picture courtesy:


  1. Hi Roshmi,
    What is the use of adding labels and tags to our posts? How can I improve the chances of my blog being shown on search results?

  2. Very informative. And a great way to draw attention to that little known corner of our country - the North East. Thanks Roshmi.

  3. @ Abhijeet: Hi! Long time...

    Labels and tags... help in categorising the posts based on topic/content, etc. This in turn helps readers in chosing the posts they want to read... including older posts... and getting a 'feel' of the blog. That helps in garnering a steady readership and getting unique readers too!

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    Register your blog on various social networking sites: Orkut, Facebook, Twitter. Also, on various blog networks: IndiBlogger, BlogAdda, Technorati, Blogged, Bloggy Awards, BlogCatalog, Blogarama, LinkReferral, etc.

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    That should do...

    P.S. Your blog is amazing... very few blogs... come close to that. So, 'traffic' should not be an issue! Infact, your blog should have a lot of 'international followers'... Cheers!

  4. @ Deepa: Hey Deepa! Welcome back! That was indeed a veryyyy looooong break...

    I'm glad you liked this post. I too find NE India fascinating! :)

  5. Nice post - chandrayaan photos ..Keep Posting

    chandrayaan photos

  6. @ Hungeryjack: Thanks for stopping by my blog... and glad you liked it :)