Kalpana Chawala Biography
The Indian-American astronaut Kalpana Chawala was born on July 1, 1961 in Karnal, Haryana in a middle class family. She did her schooling from Tagore Public School and acquired her bachelor of engineering degree in Aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College.
Sketching and painting airplanes took up most of her time and gave her the title of being ‘different’ from her peers. Her brother, Sanjay too shared her dream of flying into the heavens and experiencing the beauty of our universe but his medical report did not allow him to fulfill this dream and venture in the other world.
However Kalpana was determined to make her dream a reality and her brother proud. She therefore took up this challenge. Desiring of higher education, she went to the United States to obtain a M.S degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington.
She earned a second M.S. degree in 1986 and a Ph. D in aerospace engineering. The ambitious woman started working at the NASA Ames Research Centre as Vice President of Overset Methods. She also had a certificated flight instructor rating for airplanes, gliders and Commercial Pilot licenses for single and multi engine airplanes, seaplanes and gliders.
After joining the ‘NASA Astronaut Corps’ in March 1995, she was selected for her first flight in 1996. She was assigned her first space mission on November 19, 1997 as a part of six astronaut crew that flew the space shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. The first India born woman to fly in space travelled over 10.4 million miles in 252 orbits of the earth and spending more than 352 hours in the heavenly space. Her responsibility during this mission was to deploy the malfunctioned Spartan satellite.
The intelligent astronaut was appointed in technical positions in the astronaut office to work on the space station and her performance in the work was awarded by her peers. In 2000, she was selected for her second flight which got delayed due to technical problems such as the discovery of cracks in the space shuttle engine flow liners.
On 16th January, 2003 Chawla returned to space aboard Columbia on the STS-107 mission. The responsibilities given on her shoulders during her last mission included the microgravity experiments, for which the crew conducted approximately 80 experiments to study earth and space science, advanced technology development and astronaut health and safety.
She died on February 1, 2003 with the other six crew members when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas while entering the earth’s atmosphere. The STS-107 was thus the last mission of the second Indian woman to venture into space after Rakesh Sharma who flew in 1984 in a spacecraft. She was honored posthumously with the Congressional Space Medal of honor and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. She continues to live in our hearts.