Remembering Kalpana Chawla: First Indian woman astronaut

Published on: 17/03/17 12:21 PM

Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-American astronaut. She was born on March 17, 1962, in Karnal (in the Indian State of Haryana) in an average middle-class family. Her wish came true when she first flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997. Being raised in a society where boys are favored and girls expected to be obedient and docile, Kalpana decided to beat the odds and follow her dreams with the support of her mother. She has been a role model to several women in terms of achievement and contributions to the field of aeronautics.

She did her schoolings from Tagore Baal Niketan Senior Secondary School, Karnal, Haryana, India and completed her B.Tech in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College at Chandigarh, India in 1982. Although she never scored the highest marks in her class, was always among the first five. To fulfill her desire of becoming an astronaut, she aimed at joining the NASA and moved to the United States in 1982. She obtained a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984.

Monto was the name given to Kalpana by her parents and it became her nickname.

She got married to Jean-Pierre Harrison in 1983, who was a flying instructor and an aviation author.

Kalpana liked poetry, dancing, cycling and running. She also used to take part at sports events and was invariably first in all the races. She often played badminton and dodge ball with boys. To be an astronaut she decided to have higher education. In 1986, she attained another master degree. In 1988, she completed a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

She got the position of Vice President of Overset Methods, Inc at NASA Research Center. After being the vice president at NASA, she was assigned to make Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research on Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing concepts. She became the citizen of the United States in the year 1991. For her excellent services, she achieved many awards such as Congressional Space Medal of Honor, NASA Space Flight Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

On February 1, 2003, along with 7 crew members, she died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster which happened when the Space Shuttle disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Kalpana said after her first launch, “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.”

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