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Kalpana Chawla: First Indian-Born Female Astronaut – SPACE Blogs

Kalpana Chawla: First Indian-Born Female Astronaut

Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian origin woman to have been in space. She was an astronaut and engineer. She was chosen to be a part of the Space Shuttle Columbia team, which flew to space in 1997, as a robotic specialist. However, in 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia spacecraft crashed during its return to the earth. Chawla was among the crew members who died in the accident. She was married to Jean-Pierre Harrison. Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, India, on March 17, 1962. On February 01, 2003, she died when the Space Shuttle Columbia crashed during its re-entry to the Earth. Kalpana studied at Punjab Engineering College, India, and graduated in 1982 with the Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineer course. She took her master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas in 1984. She finished her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988. Besides flying aerobatics and tail-wheel airplanes, Kalpana’s other interests were hiking, backpacking and reading. She received a posthumous Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, and the Distinguished Service Medal. Kalpana, who was lovingly called Mantu by her parents, had shown extraordinary interest in flying. She was three or four years old when she first saw an airplane on their rooftop flying above their house.

Since then, her fascination with airplanes and flying became eminent. As a child, she always went with her father to a local flying club to watch planes. While in school, her teacher said that Kalpana spent her free time making paper airplanes and flying them. Kalpana Chawla started working at NASA Ames Research Centre in 1988. In 1993 Kalpana became the Vice President and Research Scientist of Overset Methods Inc. in Los Altos, California. She formed a team with other researchers to simulate moving multiple body systems. She developed and implemented an efficient technique to perform aerodynamic optimization. Kalpana’s works are documented and being used in conferences and journals. Her dedication to her profession has made her recognized and earned her higher positions at NASA. In 1995, she was selected as an astronaut candidate in the 15th Group of Astronauts in the Johnson Space Centre. She completed a year of training assigned at the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches. In 1996, Kalpana began her work as a prime robotic arm operator and specialist on the STS-87. In 1998, she became a crew representative for shuttle station flight crew equipment, then became a lead officer in the Astronaut’s Office’s Crew Systems and Habitability section. She had recorded a total of 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space during her job at STS-87 (1997) and the ill-fated STS-107 (2003).

The life and career of Kalpana Chawla served as an inspiration to women who dream of being in space someday. Kalpana’s legacy continues even after her death. According to Kalpana’s father, Banarasi Lal Chawla, his daughter’s only dream is for children, especially women, to not be deprived of education.

While she was earning well at NASA, she never cared for material things; instead, she would spend her money helping underprivileged kids by sending them to school. The following are some of the things that will serve as a shining remembrance that a woman astronaut from India carved her name in the history of NASA once upon a time. The government of Karnataka in India instituted the Kalpana Chawla award to recognize young women scientists. The International Space University’s Alumni founded the Kalpana Chawla ISU scholarship fund to support Indian women who wish to join the international space education program. The Indian Students Association (ISA) of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEL) launched the Kalpana Chawla Memorial Scholarship program for deserving graduate students in honor of Kalpana. The University of Chicago recently renamed its Alumni Award to The Kalpana Chawla Outstanding Recent Alumni Award. A planetarium in Jyotisar, Kurukshetra Haryana, was named after Kalpana Chawla.

Kalpana’s death was not in vain because several doors of opportunities have been opened for others aspiring to follow in her footsteps. She will be remembered as the first Indian woman who did not let her racial origin hinder her from setting foot in space. Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-born female astronaut, during her life course achieved a lot and lived an inspirational life amongst the eyes of Indians. The US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is set to telecast live the departure of the Cygnus spacecraft from the International Space Station (ISS) on January 6 at 9:45 am EST. This means that the live telecast would begin in India at 8:15 pm. The spacecraft has been named in the memory of India-born astronaut Kalpana Chawla, who became the first woman of Indian descent to go to space. The departure would take place over three months after the spacecraft delivered supplies, commercial products, hardware, and scientific investigations along with other cargo to the ISS, with the total weight of the cargo being about 8,000 pounds or over 3,600 kgs.

NASA will dedicate a new supercomputer this week to honor the memory of astronaut Kalpana “KC” Chawla, one of the seven crew members aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, lost Feb. 1, 2003. The dedication ceremony will be held on May 12 at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Before joining the astronaut program, Chawla worked as an aerospace engineer at Ames from 1988 to 1995. Chawla, the first Indian-born woman to fly in space, served as a flight engineer and mission specialist aboard Columbia.

“It is indeed an honor to name NASA’s new SGI(r) Altix(tm) 3000 supercomputer after Kalpana Chawla,” said Ames Center Director G. Scott Hubbard. “She was not only a member of the NASA family, but also a special member of our own Ames family. We all miss her and her many contributions to the agency.”

At Ames, Chawla had the challenging task of computing the airflow surrounding a jet-supported delta-wing aircraft during landing. During an interview in 1995, Chawla predicted that her exposure to a wide variety of computer systems at Ames would be especially useful to her as an astronaut. Of the dozens of experiments successfully conducted by the Columbia crew, Chawla’s favorite was the Israeli Mediterranean Dust Experiment, which involved pointing a camera at Earth to study the effects of dust on weather and the environment. The life that she achieved was an inspiration to the upcoming astronauts of the future. 

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