Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-born American astronaut and engineer who went to space twice in her life. The first Indian woman to go into space, Chawla was born in Karnal, Haryana, on 17 March, 1962.
Her first journey to space was on board the Space Shuttle Columbia, as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator, in 1997. Her second flight, STS-107 was the final flight of Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.
Chawla was among the seven crew members who died on 1 February, 2003, in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, in which the spacecraft disintegrated while re-entering the Earth's atmosphere.
She was awarded many medals and awards posthumously and she is also regarded as a national hero in India.
On Kalpana Chawla's birth anniversary, here is a look at some of the interesting facts from her life:
- As a child, Chawla was fascinated by airplanes and flying. She used to often go out with her father to local flying clubs.
- She was the only woman in her Bachelor's in Aeronautical Engineering class at the Punjab Engineering College.
- After obtaining a Bachelor's degree in Aeronautical Engineering, Kalpana Chawla moved to the United States in 1982 to pursue her Master's and she obtained a Master's of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering.
- She also obtained a second Master's degree and a PhD in Aerospace Engineering in 1988.
- Chawla started working at the National Aeronautics Space Agency Ames Research Center in 1988.
- Kalpana Chawla was married for 20 years to Jean Pierre Harrison.
- In 2004, NASA also named seven hills on Mars in memory of the seven astronauts who were killed in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, according to Space.com. Years after Chawla's death, an commercial cargo spacecraft was named in her memory by the agency.
Years after her untimely demise, Chawla continues to inspire thousands of young women to pursue their dreams and enter into the fields of aerospace engineering and space exploration.