“The remarkable journey of courage and the determination that made this Indian woman, hailing from a small town in Haryana, a citizen of the Milky Way will remain a source of pride for all Bharatvasis and Bharatvanshis,” these were the touching words of the former President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam who paid his tribute to Kalpana Chawla.
Chawla, along with six other astronauts, lost their lives in the ill-fated Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003. The entire world mourned her death. Sir Kalam added, “It will also inspire young Indians, especially women, to dream big and to work hard to realize their dreams.”
Who is Kalpana Chawla?
Kalpana Chawla, the iconic name in the world of astronauts, has become an inspiration of millions of young girls across the globe, was a simple girl next door, but her zeal was to know the unknown galaxy. When her family members would sleep on the roof during summer, she would stay awake and keep watching at the twinkling stars. Her dedication took her to new heights.
She may not be around to share or cherish her achievements, but she has left an indelible mark for others to follow. Kalpana tied the nuptial knot in 1983 with Jean-Parrie Harrison, a flying instructor, and an aviation author. Both led a happily married life.
Kalpana Chawla – Childhood
Kalpana Chawla was born in an average middle-class family on March 17, 1962, in Karnal, Haryana. Being the youngest in the family, Kalpana received immense appreciation in whatever she would do. Her parents would encourage her creative instincts and natural curiosity to know how things worked.
Her desire to know more about the galaxy would often inspire her to read outside books and science journals that she could lay her hands upon. A keen learner, Kalpana, would ask questions to her teachers until fully satisfied with their reply.
She was always fascinated by the planes. Karnal was one of the few Indian towns in those days that had a flying club called Karnal Aviation Club. This club is close to her house. She would climb onto the roof to watch the airplanes go roaring over her head.
Small Kalpana, like all children, would wave her hands at the pilot if the plane flew low over the house. Even in school, unlike her friends who would draw mountains, forests, and rivers on being asked to draw scenery, Kalpana would draw colorful airplanes flying amidst clouds. She also loved making airplane models in her craft classes.
Kalpana Chawla – Her Multi-Talents
In school, she received proper attention from her teachers for being an extraordinarily hard-working and meritorious student. Kalpana enjoyed subjects like English, Hindi, and Geography. However, her favorite subject was science. She showed an acute interest in extracurricular activities like dancing, cycling, running, and playing badminton.
In her childhood, Kalpana carried herself as a perfect tomboy and kept her hair short. She had no interest in spending money over makeup or fashionable clothes. When most girls of her age would feel excited to wear new dresses and merrymaking during elder sister’s wedding, young Kalpana refused to wear new dresses and instead on wearing the same dress for three days, questioning the wastage of money.
Who Named Her ‘Kalpana’?
Kalpana means imagination in Indian languages fits her personality who loved to bask in her make-believe world. You would be surprised to know that she decided to name herself, Kalpana. Though her family had selected three names – Kalpana, Jyotsna, and Sunaina – but they were yet to finalize. They would call her by her nickname “Monto.” During her admission to Tagore Bal Niketan, a school in her vicinity, when the principal asked her which name she would prefer. The little girl said, ‘Kalpana.’
Kalpana Chawla – Education
She completed her B.Tech in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, in 1982. She obtained an M.SC degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington.
She went on to get a second degree in 1986 and a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering in 1988. In 1998, she began working with NASA Ames Research Center.
Kalpana Chawla – Success Story And Achievements
In 1983, Kalpana decided to give shape to her dream of becoming an astronaut. Her hard work and dedication got her promoted to the position of Vice President of Overset Methods, Inc at NASA Research Center.
She made Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research on Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing concepts and gained certification for a pilot license for the seaplanes, multi-engine air place, and glider. Kalpana also became a Certificated Flight Instructor for gliders and airplanes.
Recognition from NASA – Kalpana began her first Space mission on November 19, 1997. She traveled to space on Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87 along with six other fellow astronauts.
She brought immense respect to India by becoming the first Indian born woman to fly in space, and the second Indian to be in Space after Rakesh Sharma.
Kalpana traveled over 10.4 million miles in 252 orbits of the Earth, logging more than 372 hours in space. She was conferred with the prestigious Congressional Space Medal of Honor NASA Space Flight Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal apart from other awards.
Kalpana Chawla – Death
Kalpana and six others killed as Columbia disintegrated.
Kalpana elated over her initial success, was excited to go on the next mission little knowing that it would be her last traveling experience into space. As scheduled, she embarked upon her second space mission on Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-107 on January 16, 2003, along with David Brown, Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, Commander Rick Husband, astronaut Michael Anderson, astronaut Laurel Clark, and pilot William McCool.
She earned immense recognition over her achievement. The ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-107 had developed technical snag on its way back to earth. The entire world was glued to their radio and TV sets to know the recent development. The social media was abuzz with updates.
All eyes were on NASA. Back home in India, people would offer special prayers seeking the safety of their girl. Nothing could deter the inevitable. The Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-107 had blown up disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all the seven people on board, including Our Pride, Kalpana.
The US President George W. Bush in his address to the nation said, “Fellow Americans, this day has brought terrible news and great sadness to our country. At 9 o’clock this morning, Mission Control in Houston lost contact with our Space Shuttle Columbia. A short time later, debris was seen falling from the skies above Texas. The Columbia is lost; there are no survivors.”
Kalpana Chawla As An Inspiration
Metsat-1 Renamed After Kalpana
The then Prime Minister of India, honorable Atal Bihari Vajpayee, conferred Kalpana posthumously with the Honour for Epitomising Indian Values Overseas and the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman a year later.
As a tribute to Kalpana, the first dedicated meteorological satellite Metsat-1 launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was renamed Kalpana-1 by PM Vajpayee.
What Makes Kalpana Chawla – The SuperHer?
Kalpana Chawla has left her mark among every Indian who takes her name with pride. Many young girls take inspiration from her life and aspire to become an astronaut. She may have taken US citizenship, yet back home, people in India turn emotional calling her daughter of the soil who made her country proud. Kalpana Chawla, a name that keeps on inspiring us and will remain in our hearts forever.
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