An astronaut aboard the international space station found out his 90-year-old mother died Wednesday after she was hit by a freight train.

Dan Tani, a crew member aboard Expedition 16, cannot return to Earth for her funeral; he is expected to return in January.

Rose Tani was stopped behind a school bus at railroad tracks, according to police. The bus was stopped when crossing gates came down for a westbound train. Tani blew her horn and drove around the bus, went through the downed crossing gates and the train hit her car.

NASA officials informed Tani of the incident and offered grief counseling through a private phone line to the space station.

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The car accident is under investigation, but signals and crossing gates appeared to be in working order, police said.

Tani's wife and a flight surgeon on the ground broke the news in a video conference call with the 46-year-old astronaut. But phone calls and e-mails from space are as close as Tani can get to the loving embrace of his family.

Tani has been on the space station since late October and had been scheduled to return to Earth as early as Monday of this week aboard space shuttle Atlantis, but fuel gauge problems delayed the Dec. 6 launch until January.

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft is docked at the space station but must be reserved in case the two Americans and one Russian aboard need to evacuate the outpost in an emergency.

The Tani family has not announced when the funeral will be held. Once that happens, NASA said, it will help Daniel Tani participate in any way he can, perhaps by a video or telephone linkup.

Cloutier said NASA is not at all concerned that Tani's grief could hinder his work or put his two crewmates in jeopardy. The space agency chooses astronauts with the emotional stability to handle tragedy, especially on long missions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.