Today is Kalpana Chawla’s 56th Birthday. The first Indian woman and the second Indian to go to space, Chawla lost her life in a tragic accident that also took the life of six other crew members.
Born on 17th March, 1962 in Karnal, Haryana, she was more obsessed with drawing airplanes than doing what most girls of her age did as a kid. It was her love of flying that led her to pursue Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh. After she completed her graduation, she moved to US to get a Masters’ Degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. Next, at the University of Colorado, she earned her PhD in aerospace engineering.
“On one of the night passes, I dimmed the lights in the flight deck and saw the stars. When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land but from the solar system,” she said in an interview after her first flight.
In 1988, she started working at NASA Ames Research Center. Later, in 1993, she moved to California. She was the vice-president and the research scientist working on developing efficient techniques to perform aerodynamic optimization in space.
As a Commercial Pilot
She had multiple licenses to fly commercial sea planes, multi engine jet aircraft and gliders. She also has an instructor’s license for gliders.
As a NASA astronaut, Kalpana Chawla started her career in March 1995 and stayed 30 days, 14 hours and 54 minutes in space.
She received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal posthumously.
Honors and Recognition
One of the seven peaks of the Columbia Hills was named after her as Chawla peak. India’s first MetSat series of satellites had the name Kalpana-1. Also, in the novel Star Trek: Before Dishonor by Peter Allen David, we find a a space shuttle named as Chawla.