Stars in Space

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“It was a texture. The blackness was so intense.”, said Charles Duke, about the appearance of ‘space’.
The question arises, what IS space? The simplest definition of space is the one given to children – it is the vast realm outside the atmosphere of the earth.

The dream of stepping into the outer reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere was driven by the fiction of Jules Verne and H.G.Wells, and rocket technology was developed to try to realise this vision. Space exploration is the discovery, exploration of celestial structures in outer space by means of continuously evolving technology. Studies are carried out mainly by astronomers with telescopes of great technological capability, the physical exploration of space is conducted both by unmanned robotic probes and human spaceflights too.

The first animal to actually go into orbit was the dog Laika (picture below), launched on board the Soviet Sputnik 2 spacecraft on November 3, 1957. Unfortunately, the trip into space was one-way only. It is not know for how long Laika lived in orbit ,probably a few hours or a few days, till the power to her life-support system gave out. Sputnik 2 burned up in the upper atmosphere in April 1958.


At least 10 more dogs were launched into space and on sub-orbital flights by the Soviets until April 12, 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space and also the first person to orbit the earth.
Since then, numerous space mission have been launched, to the present day, with numerous successes and some sad stories of failures.
As of June, 2013, 57 women have flown in space, out of 534 total space travellers, including cosmonauts, astronauts, specialists and foreign nationals have flown in space. One each from India, UK, France, South Korea; two each from Canada, China and Japan, three from Soviet Union/Russia, and 44 from the United States.

Valentina Tereshkova, now a retired Soviet cosmonaut and engineer, was the first woman to have flown in space in the Vostok 6, on 16 June 1963.She had been into the Soviet Air Force and thus she also became the first civilian to fly in space. (picture below)


Svetlana Savitskaya (picture below), also a former Soviet cosmonaut, flew aboard Soyuz T-7 in 1982, becoming the second woman in space some 19 years after Valentina Tereshkova, and the first woman to fly on a space station, and first woman to make two spaceflights, and also the first woman to walk in space (on her second spaceflight).


Sally Ride (the first American woman in space), Judith Resnik (the first Jewish-American in space; she died in the Challenger disaster of 1986 ), Kathryn D. Sullivan, Anna Lee Fisher, Shannon Lucid (the first woman to make a third, fourth and a fifth spaceflight ), Linda M. Godwin, Millie Hughes-Fulford (the first female payload specialist), Pamela Melroy, Laurel B. Clark (she died in the Columbia disaster in 2003), Sunita Williams (as of 2007, she holds the record for female space travelers: longest spaceflight, 195 days), Anousheh Ansari (the first Iranian in space), Yi So-yeon (first Korean in space), Liu Yang (first Chinese woman in space), H. M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, Sandra H. Magnus, Stephanie Wilson, Catherine Coleman, Janet Kavandi, Janice Voss, Mary Ellen Weber, Susan Helms, Julie Payette, Barbara Morgan (the first teacher in space), Eileen Collins (the first female space-shuttle pilot and commander), Dr.Mae Jemison (the first African-American woman to travel to space), and many others have contributed greatly to the field of space exploration. All of them came from ordinary backgrounds like you and me, but they knew how to dream big, and had the ambition to take it all the way too.

Closer to home, we had a pioneer named Kalpana Chawla born on July 1 , 1961. Born in Haryana, India, her interest in flight was inspired by J.R.D. Tata , India’s first pilot.
Kalpana decided her career an astronautical at early age and joined Punjab Engineering College at 1978. She was the first girl register in the astronautical engineering course.
After she obtained a degree, Chawla immigrated to the United States and became a naturalised citizen in the 1980s. She earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988, having previously obtained her masters degree from the University of Texas. She began working at NASA’s Ames Research Center the same year, working on power-lift computational fluid dynamics.


Her first opportunity to fly in space came in November 1997, aboard the space shuttle Columbia on flight STS-87. The shuttle made 252 orbits of the Earth in just over two weeks. The shuttle carried a number of experiments and observing tools on its trip, including a Spartan satellite, which Chawla deployed from the shuttle. The satellite, which studied the outer layer of the sun, malfunctioned due to software errors, and two other astronauts from the shuttle had to perform a spacewalk to recapture it.

After being selected for a second flight, Chawla lived at the Lyndon B Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas , undergoing extensive training. Chawla’s mission got delayed in July 2002 when NASA engineers identified three cracks on the shuttle’s second engine’s liquid hydrogen flow liner. Over six months later the shuttle was cleared; the mission was delayed several times, and finally launched in 2003. Over the course of the 16-day flight, the crew completed more than 80 experiments.

On the morning of February 1, 2003, the space shuttle returned to Earth, intending to land at Kennedy Space Center. At launch, a briefcase-sized piece of insulation had broken off and damaged the thermal protection system of the shuttle’s wing, the shield that protects it from heat during re-entry. As the shuttle passed through the atmosphere, hot gas streaming into the wing caused it to break up. The unstable craft rolled and bucked, pitching the astronauts about. Less than a minute passed before the ship depressurized, killing the crew. The shuttle broke up over Texas and Louisiana before plunging into the ground. The accident was the second major disaster for the space shuttle program, following the 1986 explosion of the shuttle Challenger. Over the course of her two missions, she logged 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space.
Kalpana-1 (picture above) , named in honour of Kalpana Chawla’s, became the first dedicated meteorological satellite launched by Indian Space Research Organisation.

Jane Austen wrote – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”

It is the drive, the passion and ambition that guided all these women towards their goals, and they really did, land among the stars.

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