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Remembering Kalpana Chawla: First Indian-born American woman to go to space

Mar 17, 2023 10:53 AM IST

Kalpana Chawla birth anniversary: Chawla received many medals, and awards posthumously for her contributions to space and science research.

Kalpana Chawla — the name that leaves almost all Indians with pride— the first Indian-born woman to fly in space, was born in Karnal, Haryana on March 17, 1962.

Kalpana Chawla first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997, as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. (File)

As a child, Chawla was very fascinated by aircrafts and flying. She used to visit local flying clubs with her father and would see the planes. She pursued the degree of aeronautical engineering at Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh after completing her initial studies at Karnal. She moved to the United States in the year 1982 to fulfil her desire of being an astronaut. In 1984 she received a Masters degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. She also had a PhD in the same field from the University of Colorado in 1988. In the same year she started working at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the US. She married Jean-Pierre Harrison in 1983.

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The Indian-origin American astronaut embarked on her first space journey in 1997 on Space Shuttle Columbia as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator on this mission. She had completed 252 orbits of the earth in 15 days and 16 hours in this mission.

Her second and final journey into space was on STS-107 Space Shuttle Columbia. The 16-day flight was a dedicated science and research mission. The space shuttle disintegrated over Texas while returning into the Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003, killing all the seven crew members including Chawla onboard.

Her last remains were cremated and scattered at National Park in Utah, US as per her wish.

Called KC by her friends, Chawla was admired for her kindness and her constant striving for perfection. She received many medals, and awards posthumously from both the Indian government and the US government for her contributions to space and science research.

MetSat-1, the first satellite under the Met-Sat series, which was launched on September 12, 2002 by India, was renamed Kalpana-1. The Kalpana Chawla Award was established by the Karnataka government to award young women scientists. Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College, Karnal, Haryana was established in 2017.

(With inputs from agencies)

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