Kalpana Chawla was an American astronaut, engineer and the first woman of Indian origin to travel to space. She was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and a number of streets, universities and institutions are named in her honor.

Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana’s Early Life:

She was born on March 17, 1962, in Karnal, Haryana, India, but she is one year elder officially, to become eligible for the matriculation exam. Chawla was the youngest of four children. The name Kalpana means “imagination.” She often glided by the nickname K.C. From her childhood, she is fascinate by aeroplanes and flying and because of her fascination she like to go local flying clubs and watch planes with her father. Being a high-performing student and in 1976, she graduated from the Tagore School. She obtained B.E. degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College before immigrating to the USA and get a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988.

The career of Kalpana Chawla:

In 1988, she started her career with NASA Ames Research Center and did computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research on vertical and/or short take-off and landing concepts. In April 1991 she becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen and applied for the NASA Astronaut Corps and joined the corps in 1995. Her dream to fly in space got the first opportunity in November 1997, abroad the space shuttle Colombia on flight STS-87. In 2000, she was elected for her second voyage into space, serving again as a mission specialist on STS-107. The mission is delay several times and eventually launch in 2003. Over the course of the 16-day flight, the crew completed quite 80 experiments. On the morning of Feb 1, 2003, the spacecraft return to Earth and ready to land at Kennedy Space Center but the shuttle disrupted over Texas and Louisiana before plunging into the ground because of the damaged thermal protection.

STS-107 Crew inlcuding Kalpana Chawla
STS-107 crew member poses

Legacy of Kalpana Chawla:

The events of Columbia are officially investigated and reported on to know what happened and the way to stop the tragedy from re-occurring in future spaceflights. Examples include the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (2003) NASA’s Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report (released in 2008).

Several documentaries are produced about the Columbia crew. Some examples include “Astronaut Diaries: Remembering the Columbia Shuttle Crew” (2005) and one that focused on Ilan Ramon, called “Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope” (2013).

The University of Texas dedicated a Kalpana Chawla memorial at the Arlington College of Engineering in 2010 in her honor.

There are several rumors about films in production concerning Chawla’s life, including a rumor in 2017 that had the actress Priyanka Chopra (known for Baywatch and Quantico, also as Bollywood films) attached thereto.

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Honors and recognition:

  • NASA has dedicate a supercomputer to K.C.
  • The Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee announce that the meteorological series of satellites, Met Sat, is to be rename “Kalpana” on February 5, 2003. The first satellite of the series, “MetSat-1“, launch by India on September 12, 2002 is rename “Kalpana-1“.
  • 74th Street within the “Little India” of Jackson Heights in New York has name “Kalpana Chawla Way” in her honor.
  • The Kalpana Chawla Award is institute by the Karnataka in 2004 to recognize young women scientists.
  • The Kalpana One Space Settlement is name in her honor.



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