Kalpana Chawla – Indian Woman who dared to Step in Space

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Kalpana Chawla was born on March 17, 1962 in Karnal, Haryana, India. She was the first Indian women to space. She first flew in a space shuttle on 1997 as a mission specialist and a primary robotic arm operator. She was one among the seven crew members who were killed on 2003, when the space shuttle crashed into the ocean. Her name Kalpana means “idea” or “imagination” and she was inspired the J.R.D Tata, an Indian Pilot.


Kalpana was the youngest of the four children in her family. Being a child, she was unusual from all the other children around her and in her school. Kalpana Chawla completed her schooling at Tagore Baal Niketan School, in Karnal, her home town. Karnal is one of the towns which had flying clubs, and the best club was the Karnal Aviation Club.  Kalpana was attracted towards the club because it had flights which could fly rather than other clubs which had stationary planes, while once she had a ride in a small flight. She was simple from her childhood and always wanted to become an astronaut. She did her “Aeronautical Engineering” in the Punjab Engineering College at Chandigarh in 1982, she was the only girl to study the course at that time. She moved to United States the same year and then completed her Master of Science degree in aerospace in 1984 from the University of Texas, Arlington. Her main motive was to become astronaut in the midst of the Challenger Disaster that happened with the space shuttle in 1984, she completed her second masters Degree in 1986 and her PhD from the University of Colorado in 1988.

She was selected by NASA to work for them and her career started in the year 1988 at the NASA Ames Research Center as the Vice President of Overset Methods. She did her Computational fluid dynamics research on the Vertical and short Takeoff and Landing concepts in the same research centre. She held the license for the Pilot for the single and multi engines airplanes.


She got her citizenship as a USA person in the year 1991. As she got the citizenship, chawla applied for the NASA Astronaut Corps. She was selected for the corps in the year 1995 and she was selected to fly in the year 1996. Kalpana Chawla spoke a few words before leaving into the space and that was, you are just your Intelligences. She travelled about 10.67 million Kilometer, which is about 252 times, going around the Earth.

Her first mission was in the year 1997, which began on November 19. There were seven crew members in total that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight. She was the first Indian born woman, while the second Indian to have a foot in the weightlessness of space after Rakesh Sharma, who left in the year 1984. Chawla on her first mission travelled about 10.67 million kilometer, and stayed about 372 hours in space. On this mission, she was responsible for deploying the Malfunctioned Sparten Satellite, which made Winston Scott and Takao Doi for a spacewalk to capture the satellite. Kalpana was told responsible for the malfunction and was charged, but after a five month investigation, it was proved that chawla was innocent and she was exonerated by identifying the software interface errors which caused the malfunction.

After the completion of the mission, chawla was assigned the job to technical position in the astronaut office and to work for the space station. She was recognized for her works and her keen peers and was awarded. In 2000, she was again selected for her second space visit as a part of the crew members of the STS-107. The mission was delayed due to technical problems. It was delayed so much for up to 3 years, such as the delay caused due to the discovery of cracks in the engine in 2002. Finally in 2003, January 16, she along with her crew members was leaving to space in the ill fated STS-107 mission. In this mission, chawla had the responsibilities which included the microgravity experiments. The crew conducted about 80 experiments on the space science, and astronaut health and safety.


They left for space, but the tragic incident happened. During the launch of the STS-107, a piece of foam insulation broke from the external tank of the Space Shuttle and struck the left wing. During the earlier mission of the Columbia, the foam did not cause severe damage to the wing, but some engineers suspected that the damage to STS-107 could be a major damage. When the Space shuttle reentered into the Earth’s atmosphere, the damage in the left wing allowed hot atmospheric gases to penetrate into the wing and destroy the wing’s structure, which was the reason for the spacecraft to lose its stability and broke up over Texas and Louisiana. All the flight crew members were killed. After the disaster the operations were suspended by the Space Shuttle for more than two years.

Over the course of the two missions she had the opportunity to log 30 days, 14 hours and 54 minutes in the space. Kalpana chawla was awarded three awards after her demise, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.


Kalpana is an inspiration to many people in India and around the world. Her hard work and her only motive had made her life. She was different from others, she only wanted to become an astronaut. Her family was against her, when she was to leave to USA, but she had her own ideas and intensions. We have to learn a lot from Kalpana Chawla, who achieved her goal with a lot of hard work and suffering rather than others common people.

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