Kalpana Chawla was born on March 17, 1962, in Karnal, Haryana and died on February 1, 2003 at the age of 41 over the southern United States when Space Shuttle Columbia exploded.
Dr. Suman Grewal, Scientist
The name of prominent American astronaut of Indian descent-Kalpana Chawla, has been selected for naming spacecraft after her- owned by Northrop Gruman, a pioneering company in global aerospace, defense and security bound for the International Space Station.
The S.S Kalpana Chawla spacecraft will be launched into orbit from Virginia on September 29, 2020.
Kalpana Chawla was born on March 17, 1962, in Karnal, Haryana and died on February 1, 2003 at the age of 41 over the southern United States when Space Shuttle Columbia exploded and she, with her six crewmates, perished, prior to their scheduled landing at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA.
Kalpana was fascinated by airplanes and flying since her childhood and her father took her for her first air joyride in the Pushpak, a 1950s Indian two-seat cabin monoplane.
She completed her schooling from Tagore School, Karnal and Bachelor’s in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh.
She moved to the USA for higher studies and received her Master’s in aerospace engineering
from University of Texas-Arlington and Doctorate from University of Colorado.
Kalpana joined NASA in 1988, was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1994, and trained at Johnson Space Center in the 15th Group of Astronauts.
Her first spaceflight was STS-87 on Space Shuttle Columbia from Nov. 19 to Dec. 5, 1997 as a mission specialist and prime robotic arm operator.
The astronauts of STS-87 performed experiments designed to study the weightless environment of space and the Sun’s outer atmospheric layers.
She returned to space on STS-107 on January 16, 2003, aboard Columbia as mission specialist.
This 16-day flight was dedicated to research that helped us understand astronaut health and safety during spaceflight.
The STS-107 mission ended abruptly on February 1, 2003 when Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, 16 minutes prior to the scheduled landing.
Kalpana enjoyed hiking and backpacking in addition to flying. She was a certificated and licensed Flight Instructor, had commercial pilot’s licenses for single and multi-engine land and seaplanes, and Gliders.
During an STS preflight interview, she was asked who inspired her. She responded that she was motivated by people who are giving it their all.
She said “I think inspiration and tied with it is motivation, for me; definitely, it comes every day from people in all walks of life. It’s easy for me to be motivated and inspired by seeing somebody who just goes all out to do something.”
In a memorial service on Feb. 4, 2003, Astronaut Office Chief Kent Rominger said that Chawla loved her work and was respected by her colleagues.
He said, “Kalpana, or K.C. to her friends, was admired personally for her extraordinary kindness and professionally for her strive for perfection,”
“None of our astronauts traveled a longer path to space than Kalpana Chawla,” U.S. President George W. Bush had said “She left India as a student but she would see the nation of her birth, all of it, from
hundreds of miles above.”
Hailing her contribution, Haryana Government has set up Government Medical College in Karnal after her name.
Kalpana Chawla biopic is reportedly in the works with the director of ‘Chak De! India’ under the Yash Raj Films banner.
About the Writer: Dr Suman (Rathee) Grewal is Regulatory Affairs Officer for Clinic Research at Stony Brook University Hospital, NY and Professor of Chemistry at SCCC, SUNY, USA. She is also a member of Global Haryana Chamber of Commerce (GHCC).