Kalpana Chawla turns 62: Remembering the 1st Indian woman to fly to space

Kalpana Chawla turns 62: Remembering the 1st Indian woman to fly to space
via AP Archive
Ryan General
March 18, 2024
Kalpana Chawla, the first woman of Indian origin to venture into space, would have celebrated her 62nd birthday on March 17 had her life not been tragically cut short in the 2003 Columbia disaster.
Key points:
  • Chawla, born on March 17, 1962, etched her name in history as the first woman of Indian descent to journey into space. Following her maiden voyage in 1997, she managed to complete 30 days in space over two Space Shuttle missions.
  • Her promising career was cut short in 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry, claiming the lives of all seven crew members, including Chawla.
  • Following her death, Chawla’s legacy was immortalized through numerous honors, including the naming of a spacecraft, an asteroid a lunar crater and a hill on Mars in her honor.

The details:
  • Chawla’s journey to the stars began in Karnal, India, where she nurtured her passion for flight from an early age. In 1978, she became the first woman to enroll in the aeronautical engineering course at Punjab Engineering College.
  • After earning her bachelor’s degree, she pursued higher education in the U.S. in the 1980s. She then obtained her master’s and doctoral degrees in aerospace engineering and ultimately joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as an astronaut.
  • During her tenure at NASA, Chawla contributed significantly to aerospace research, specializing in fluid dynamics and robotic arm operations. She was selected for two Space Shuttle missions, during which she conducted groundbreaking experiments.
  • Chawla passed away on Feb. 1, 2003, alongside her crew when the Space Shuttle Columbia malfunctioned due to a damaged wing. This allowed superheated gases to penetrate, causing the spacecraft to disintegrate 16 minutes before its scheduled landing.
  • In 2020, Northrop Grumman named a Cygnus spacecraft, used for resupply missions to the International Space Station, the “S.S. Kalpana Chawla” in her honor.
  • Chawla was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.
  • Chawla’s story has been shared widely along with many tributes. “From the city of Karnal to the stars, Kalpana Chawla still shines in millions of dreams,” shared IFS officer Parveen Kaswan in a post on X with over 1,000 likes.
 
View post on X
What’s next: 
  • Chawla’s journey serves as an enduring inspiration, especially for women in STEM fields. Her legacy will continue to inspire generations to come, encouraging young people to pursue their dreams regardless of their background.
Tangent: 
  • Continuing in Chawla’s footsteps, Sirisha Bandla became the second Indian-born woman to fly into space in 2021.
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