Remembering Kalpana Chawla, First Women Astronaut Of India On Her 16th Death Anniversary

| February 1 , 2019 , 12:52 IST

Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian-born woman to fly in space and only the second Indian person to do so tragically died on February 1, 2003.

The Haryana-born female astronaut died along with six others just 16 minutes before landing as the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Kalpana Chawla was born in the small town of Karnal, Haryana to a traditional middle-class family. The youngest of the four children, Kalpana studied at the Tagore School. She completed her aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College in 1982.

In the same year, she moved to the United States. Once in the U.S., she got her masters from the University of Texas, Arlington and a doctorate from the University of Colorado. It was there she met her husband, French flying instructor and aviation writer Jean-Pierre Harrison.

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"

During her first space mission, she also spoke to the then Prime Minister of India Inderjit K Gujral from the orbit.

Whenever asked about how she felt about being the first Indian origin women to travel into space she always said "I never truly thought of being the first or second someone. If you want to do something, what does it matter where you are ranked?, Nor does being a woman make a difference. We were all just crew members."

It was her second space mission in 2003, aboard STS-107, that proved to be fatal for her and the six other crew members. On February 1, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, just 16 minutes before landing.

She has an asteroid and a satellite named after her. A hill in the Columbia Hills on Mars is named after her as Chawla Hill. This is apart from the dorm rooms, hallways, medals and scholarships named after her at all colleges and universities where she studied during her years as a student.

She was also awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, NASA Space Flight Medal and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal posthumously.

The nation remembered Kalpana Chawla, who is an inspiration to many Indians, on her death anniversary.

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