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Kalpana Chawla (March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003) was an American astronaut, engineer, and the first woman of Indian descent to go to space.[2][3] She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. In 2003, Chawla was one of the seven crew members who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when the spacecraft disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.[4] Chawla was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor,[5] and several streets, universities and institutions have been named in her honor.[6][7][8] The late astronaut is recognized as a national hero in India.[9] She was in space for 336 hrs during research mission.

Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla, NASA photo portrait in orange suit.jpg
Born(1962-03-17)March 17, 1962
Karnal, East Punjab, India
(present-day Karnal, Haryana, India)
DiedFebruary 1, 2003(2003-02-01) (aged 40)
Aboard Space Shuttle Columbia over Texas, U.S.
Alma mater(PEC-Chandigarh, INDIA) Punjab Engineering College
University of Texas at Arlington
University of Colorado at Boulder
AwardsCongressional Space Medal of Honor
Space career
Time in space
31 days, 14 hours, 54 minutes[1]
Selection1994 NASA Group
MissionsSTS-87, STS-107
Mission insignia
Sts-87-patch.svg STS-107 Flight Insignia.svg

Early lifeEdit

Chawla was born on March 17, 1962, in Karnal, Haryana, India, but her official date of birth was altered to July 1, 1961, to allow her to become eligible for the matriculation exam.[10] As a child, Kalpana always wanted to fly high, she liked to draw pictures of airplanes.[11] She went to local flying clubs and watched planes with her father.[12] Chawla said "Every once in a while we'd ask my dad if we could get a ride in one of these planes. And, he did take us to the flying club and we had a joyride in the Pushpak[13] and a glider that the flying club had."[12]

In 1976, Chawla graduated from the Tagore School, where she was a high-performing student.[14] After getting a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College, India, she moved to the United States in 1982 and obtained a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984.[15] Chawla went on to earn a second Masters in 1986 and a PhD[16] in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado Boulder.


(In 1989, she began working at NASA Ames Research Center, where she did computational fluid dynamics(CFD) research on vertical and/or short take-off and landing(V/STOL) concepts. Much of Chawla's research is included in technical journals and conference papers. In 1993, she joined Overset Methods, Inc. as Vice President and Research Scientist specializing in simulation of moving multiple body problems. Chawla held a Certificated Flight Instructor rating for airplanes, gliders and Commercial Pilot licenses for single and multi-engine airplanes, seaplanes and gliders). After becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in April 1991, Chawla applied for the NASA Astronaut Corps.[17] She joined the corps in March 1995 and was selected for her first flight in 1996.

First space missionEdit

Her first space mission began on November 19, 1997, as part of the six-astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. Chawla was the first Indian woman to fly in space. She spoke the following words while traveling in the weightlessness of space, "You are just your intelligence." On her first mission, Chawla traveled over 10.4 million miles (16737177.6 km) in 252 orbits of the earth, logging more than 372 hours (15 Days and 12 Hours) in space.[18] During STS-87, she was responsible for deploying the Spartan satellite which malfunctioned, necessitating a spacewalk by Winston Scott and Takao Doi to capture the satellite. A five-month NASA investigation fully exonerated[citation needed] Chawla by identifying errors in software interfaces and the defined procedures of flight crew and ground control. After the completion of STS-87 post-flight activities, Chawla was assigned to technical positions in the astronaut office to work on the space station.

Second space missionEdit

In 2001, Chawla was selected for her second flight as part of the crew of STS-107. This mission was repeatedly delayed due to scheduling conflicts and technical problems such as the July 2002 discovery of cracks in the shuttle engine flow liners. On January 16, 2003, Chawla finally returned to space aboard Space Shuttle Columbia on the ill-fated STS-107 mission. The crew performed nearly 80 experiments studying Earth and space science, advanced technology development, and astronaut health and safety. During the launch of STS-107, Columbia's 28th mission, a piece of foam insulation broke off from the Space Shuttle external tank and struck the left wing of the orbiter. Previous shuttle launches had seen minor damage from foam shedding,[19] but some engineers suspected that the damage to Columbia was more serious. NASA managers limited the investigation, reasoning that the crew could not have fixed the problem if it had been confirmed.[20] When Columbia re-entered the atmosphere of Earth, the damage allowed hot atmospheric gases to penetrate and destroy the internal wing structure, which caused the spacecraft to become unstable and break apart.[21] After the disaster, Space Shuttle flight operations were suspended for more than two years, similar to the aftermath of the Challenger disaster. Construction of the International Space Station (ISS) was put on hold; the station relied entirely on the Russian Roscosmos State Corporation for resupply for 29 months until Shuttle flights resumed with STS-114 and 41 months for crew rotation.


The crew of STS-107 in October 2001. From left to right: Brown, Husband, Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Anderson, McCool, Ramon

Chawla died on February 1, 2003, in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, along with the other six crew members, when the Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107.[22] Chawla's remains were identified along with those of the rest of the crew members and were cremated and scattered at Zion National Park in Utah in accordance with her wishes.[23]

Personal lifeEdit

Chawla is survived by her husband of almost 20 years before her death, Jean‐Pierre Harrison.[14]

Honors and recognitionEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Dismukes, Kim (March 1, 2004). "Kalpana Chawla – STS-107 Crew Memorial". National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  2. ^ Salim Rizvi (December 11, 2006). "Indo-US astronaut follows Kalpana's footsteps". New York: BBC. Retrieved November 20, 2012. Almost four years after the death of the first American astronaut Kalpana Chawla in the Columbia space shuttle disaster, Nasa has sent another woman of Indian origin into space.
  3. ^ Nola Taylor Redd. "Kalpana Chawla: Biography & Columbia Disaster". Tech Media Network. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  4. ^ "Kalpana Chawla". Retrieved 2012-05-24.
  5. ^ "Astronaut Bio: Kalpana Chawla 5/04". Retrieved 2018-01-05.
  6. ^ a b Rajghatta, Chidanand (Jul 12, 2004). "NY has Kalpana Chawla Way". The Times of India. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
  7. ^ a b Saxena, Ambuj (2007-03-14). "Kalpana Chawla Space Technology Cell | Flickr – Photo Sharing!". Flickr. Retrieved 2010-12-10.
  8. ^ a b "IBN News". 2010-02-03. Retrieved 2010-12-10.
  9. ^ Phillips, Leah (2017-05-24). "Impossible Journey: The Liminality of Female Heroes". Round Table. 1 (1): 7. doi:10.24877/rt.13. ISSN 2514-2070.
  10. ^ Salwi, Dilip M (20 February 2004). "Did you know Kalpana was called Monto?". Archived from the original on August 20, 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b "Kalpana Chawla: Sts-107 Crew Memorial". Retrieved 2019-04-17.
  13. ^ "HAL Pushpak", Wikipedia, 2019-05-08, retrieved 2019-06-26
  14. ^ a b Chawla, Kalpana. American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. April 2008. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.6028448.
  15. ^ Chawla, Kalpana (1984), MS Thesis Optimization of cross flow fan housing for airplane wing. installation, University of Texas at Arlington, p. 97
  16. ^ Chawla, Kalpana (1988), PhD Thesis Computation of dynamics and control of unsteady vortical flows, University of Colorado at Boulder, p. 147
  17. ^ Basu, Biman (May 2012). "Book Review: Biography of Kalpana Chawla" (PDF). Science Reporter. pp. 40–41. Retrieved 2013-07-06. Born on 17 March 1962 in Karnal, Haryana
  18. ^ "Kalpana Chawla (PH.D)". Biographical Data. NASA. Retrieved September 14, 2014.
  19. ^ Columbia Accident Investigation Board (August 2003). "6.1 A History of Foam Anomalies (page 121)" (PDF). Retrieved June 26, 2014.
  20. ^ Marcia Dunn (February 2, 2003). "Columbia's problems began on left wing". Associated Press via
  21. ^ "Molten Aluminum found on Columbia's thermal tiles". USA Today. Associated Press. March 4, 2003. Retrieved August 13, 2007.
  22. ^ Correspondent, A. "Space Shuttle Explodes, Kalpana Chawla dead". Rediff.
  23. ^ Leinbach, Michael; Ward, Jonathan H. (January 23, 2018). "Chapter 12: Healing and Closure". Bringing Columbia home : the untold story of a lost space shuttle and her crew. New York: Arcade Publishing. ISBN 9781628728521. A few days later a memorial service was held for Kalpana Chawla at Zion National Monument in Utah, one of her favorite places
  24. ^ "Tribute to the Crew of Columbia". NASA JPL. Retrieved 2007-06-10.
  25. ^ "ISRO METSAT Satellite Series Named After Columbia Astronaut Kalpana Chawla". Retrieved 2007-06-10.
  26. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Award instituted". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 2004-03-23. Retrieved 2007-06-10.
  27. ^ "NASA Names Supercomputer After Columbia Astronaut". Retrieved 2007-06-10.
  28. ^ "Space Music – Rock/Pop". HobbySpace. 2005-08-31. Retrieved 2010-12-10.
  29. ^ David, Peter; Star Trek: Next Generation: Before Dishonor; Page 24.
  30. ^ Kalpana Chawla International Space University Scholarship Archived March 1, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Memorial Scholarship". UTEP. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved June 10, 2008.
  32. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Award". University of Colorado. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved February 12, 2012.
  33. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Hall". University of Texas at Arlington. Retrieved 2013-05-16.
  34. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Display Dedicated at Nedderman Hall". The University of Texas at Arlington. Retrieved 2013-05-16.
  35. ^ "Punjab Engineering College remembers Kalpana". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on August 27, 2006. Retrieved June 10, 2007.
  36. ^ "Space Technology Cell". Archived from the original on 2007-12-30. Retrieved 2010-12-10.
  37. ^ "Delhi University".
  38. ^ "SIRT".
  39. ^ "Pondicherry University".
  40. ^ "Truba".
  41. ^ "KalpanaOne".
  42. ^,_Bhubaneswar

Further readingEdit

  • Among the Stars!: Life and Dreams of Kalpana Chawla by Gurdeep Pandher
  • India's 50 Most Illustrious Women (ISBN 81-88086-19-3) by Indra Gupta
  • Kalpana Chawla: A Life (ISBN 0-14-333586-3) by Anil Padmanabhan
  • The Edge of Time: The Authoritative Biography of Kalpana Chawla (ISBN 978-0976827917) by Jean-Pierre Harrison

External linksEdit