She would have been 55 if it hadn’t been for space shuttle Columbia tragedy on February 1, 2003, in which Indo-American astronaut Kalpana Chawla died along with six other astronauts just 16 minutes before landing.
Kalpana Chawla was born on March 17, 1962, in Karnal, Haryana. At an age when most girls used to play with dolls, Chawla used to draw pictures of air-planes. She loved to fly and it was her love of flying that inspired her to pursue bachelor’s of science Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh. After completing her graduation, she moved to the United States to obtain a master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. Her determination to fly, then, took her to the University of Colorado, where 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.
So, on what would have been her 55th birthday, we present to you five interesting facts that you didn’t know about her:
1. The NASA experience
Kalpana Chawla first started working at NASA in 1988 at the NASA Ames Research Center. She moved California as the vice-president and research scientist to develop efficient techniques to perform aerodynamic optimisation in space in 1993.
2. Commercial Pilot
She had a certified commercial pilot license for the seaplanes, multi-engine air-crafts and gliders. She was also a certified flight instructor for gliders and airplanes.
3. Space Experience
Kalpana Chawla joined NASA as an astronaut candidate in March 1995. She flew on two space missions logging 30 days, 14 hours and 54 minutes in space.
She was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal posthumously.
5. Honours and Recognitions
Kalpana Chawla has been honoured with numerous honours and recognitions. NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission named one of the seven peaks in a chain of hills called the Columbia Hills as Chawla Hill. India named the first satellite of the MetSat series as Kalpana-1. Novelist Peter Allen David named a shuttle, the Chawla, after Kalpana Chawla in his novel Star Trek: Before Dishonour.