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Remembering the First Woman of Indian Origin to Fly to Space : Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla was born on 17th March 1962 in Karnal, Haryana. She studied Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College and then moved to The United States to pursue a master’s in Aerospace Engineering from The University of Texas, Arlington. 

In 1986, Kalpana obtained a second master’s and went on to obtain a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from The University of Colorado Boulder, USA. The little girl who was always fascinated with planes and used to go with her dad to local flying clubs was slowly coming close to realising her dream. 

In 1988, Kalpana Chawla’s sharp mind got her into NASA Ames Research Center, wherein she did CFD (computational fluid dynamics) research on V/STOL (vertical and/or short take-off and landing) concepts. 

In 1993, she achieved another milestone as she became the Vice President and Research Scientist at Overset Methods Inc. 

Kalpana Chawla’s Journey of Flying to Space

Kalpana Chawla applied for the NASA Astronaut Corps, a NASA unit that trains and provides astronauts as crew members for the USA’s national and international space missions. 

In 1996, Chawla was selected for her first flight to space, and her space mission began on 19th November 1997, as part of the six-astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. Kalpana made India proud as she became the first woman of Indian origin to fly to space. 

On her first space mission, Kalpana spent more than 15 days and 12 hours in space, which counts to almost 372 hours. 

Kalpana’s Second Space Mission began with Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-107. While re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, Columbia became unstable and broke apart, killing all the crew members on board. 

Kalpana Chawla died on 1st February 2003 when STS-107 perished while re-entering Earth. Her mortals were cremated at Zion National Park, Utah, in accordance to her last wishes. 

Watch Chawla’s last message to India

Recognition

Several Universities, Streets, and Scholarships are named after Kalpana Chawla. A supercomputer is dedicated to Kalpana Chawla by NASA. 

The first satellite of India’s meteorological series of satellites, MetSat-1, was renamed ‘Kalpana -1’.

One of the peaks of the Columbia Hills is Chawla hill which is named after Kalpana Chawla. 

The government of Karnataka instituted The Kalpana Chawla Award in 2004 to recognise young women scientists. 

Kalpana Chawla will always be regarded as the woman who inspired many youngsters to fly to space and never give up on their dreams. 

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