Remembering Kalpana Chawla

OV Digital Desk
3 Min Read
Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla (17 March 1962-1 February 2003), was an Indian born American astronaut.

Early Life

Kalpana Chawla was born on 17 March 1962, in Haryana, India. When she was a kid, she was fascinated by planes and flying. She attended flying clubs and watched them with her dad. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College.

After her graduation, in 1982, she moved to the United States and joined the University of Texas at Arlington and got her Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1984.

Afterward, she earned her second master’s degree in 1986 and his Ph.D. in 1988 from the University of Colorado.

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Journey to NASA

In 1988, she joined NASA Ames Research Center. Overset Methods Inc. in Los Altos, California, hired Kalpana as their vice president and lead researcher in 1993. In 1991, she became a U.S. citizen and applied to the NASA Astronaut Corps. In 1995, she joined the corps, and flew for the first time in 1997.

1st Space Mission

The first time she flew in space was on STS-87, a mission aboard the NASA space shuttle Columbia. A Spartan satellite was launched from the shuttle by Chawla, one of the experiments and observing tools the shuttle carried. Due to software errors, the satellite, which studied the outer layer of the sun, didn’t work, so two astronauts did a spacewalk to recapture it.

2nd Space Mission

In 2001, she was picked for her second space flight, but it got delayed. Finally, on 16 January 2003, she boarded the Columbia, which turned out to be her last mission. One of her tasks was to conduct microgravity experiments.

The space shuttle returned to Earth on 1 February 2003. It was going to land at Kennedy Space Center. During launch, a piece of insulation broke off, damaging the wing’s thermal protection system, which protects it against heat during re-entry. A hot gas stream entering the wing caused the shuttle to break up as it passed through the atmosphere.

The craft rolled and bucked, throwing the astronauts around. A minute later, the ship ran out of pressure, killing all the crew. Before colliding with the ground, the shuttle broke apart over Texas and Louisiana. It was the second major accident in the space shuttle program, after the Challenger volcano in 1986.

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All seven crew members died. Besides Chawla, the crew included Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Ilan Ramon, David Brown, William McCool, and Michael Anderson.

An episode of Mega Icons, National Geographic’s documentary show about Indian icons, was devoted to Chawla.


She died on 1 February 2003, in the United States.

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