Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-American astronaut, was a role model for young Indian women and is still remembered for her journey from a small town of Karnal (in Haryana) to become one of the most renowned names at NASA.
Her robust desire to travel and fly to the distant and untraveled horizons made Kalpana take a brave stand in the male dominant society.
Here are a few interesting facts from her life that are no less inspiring:
1. Early Life
Kalpana was born on 17th March 1962 and belonged to a middle class family in a small town in Haryana. She was the youngest of the four children and hence the most pampered one
2. Completed her early education from Punjab
It was during her pre-university period that Kalpana realised that her desire to become a flight engineer requires a degree in engineering. This took her to Chandigarh, where she completed her B.Sc (engineering) from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh in the year 1982.
3. Moved to the US
After completing her degree from Punjab Engineering College, she started targeting various universities in the US for a Masters degree. She completed her Master of Science from the University of Texas in the year 1984. To take a step further towards her desire of becoming an astronaut at NASA, she enrolled for a Ph.D. It was in 1988 that she completed her Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
4. Love Life
While studying at the University of Texas, Kalpana met her husband Jean-Pierre Harrison who was a flight instructor. Owing to their common interests, a strong friendship grew between the two and a year later, they decided to tie the knot.
Kalpana’s parents used to call her Monto, but she chose to be called Kalpana. However, she adopted Monto as a nickname.
6. Work at NASA
Kalpana joined NASA in 1988 as the Vice President of Overset Methods at NASA Ames Research Center. Here she was responsible for Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research on Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing concepts.
7. Flight Instructor
With a zealous desire to fly high in the air, Kalpana had a commercial pilot license for seaplanes, gliders and multi-engine airplanes.
8. Member of NASA Astronaut Corps.
After obtaining US citizenship, in the year 1991, she became a member of NASA Astronaut Corps.
9. First Indian-Born Female To Travel In Space
Kalpana’s first flight as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator was on Space Shuttle Columbia in the year 1997. She was a part of a six-member astronaut crew and the mission began on 19th Nov 1997.
10. Space Shuttle Tragedy
Kalpana’s second flight turned out to be her last. On the 1st Feb 2003, the space shuttle disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. She was a part of the seven-member astronaut crew who died in this tragic incident.
Posthumously, she was honoured with the Congressional Space Medal of Honour, NASA Distinguished Service Medal and NASA Space Flight Medal.
After her first flight, the wishful Kalpana said: “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”.