Sixteen years ago on this day, India lost one of its most talented children, Kalpana Chawla.
She was one of seven crew members in NASA’sSpace Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated minutes after launching from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. The shuttle was 73 seconds into its flight when it blew up, silently, in a cloud of red, orange and white.
Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian-born woman in space, and a role model for not just women around the world, but anyone that dreamt of being an astronaut. She went to space on two missions as a NASA astronaut – both on the space shuttle Columbia.
Kalpana Chawla was an aeronautical engineer graduate from Punjab Engineering College before she immigrated to America and got her US citizenship in the 1980s. She went to do her doctoral studies in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988 and began working at NASA’s Ames Research Center the very year.
NASA picked Chawla as an astronaut candidate in 1994. In just a year, she was chosen as a representative for NASA’s Astronaut Office. She worked with robotic displays and software testing for spacecraft during her time there.
अंतरिक्ष में भारत का नाम रोशन करने वाली प्रथम भारतीय महिला अंतरिक्ष यात्री कल्पना चावला जी की पुण्यतिथि पर उन्हें भावभीनी श्रद्धांजलि। दृढ़ इच्छाशक्ति की प्रतीक कल्पना जी की स्मृतियां आज भी देश की बेटियों को नई बुलंदियां छूने के लिए प्रेरित करती हैं।#KalpanaChawla pic.twitter.com/eelcF0QJeP
— Vasundhara Raje (@VasundharaBJP) February 1, 2019
Kalpana’s first space mission on November 19, 1997 – on Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87- made her the first Indian-origin woman and the second Indian, after Rakesh Sharma, to go to space. One of Kalpana’s tasks was to release the Spartan satellite.
However, a malfunction occurred, forcing the crew to spacewalk to retrieve the satellite. NASA launched an investigation into it after their return, but Kalpana was later exonerated, with the space agency even calling her “a terrific astronaut.”
NASA awarded Chawla with a Congressional Space Medal of Honor, a NASA Space Flight Medal and a NASA Distinguished Service Medal for her contributions to space and science.