Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla (March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003) was an American astronaut, engineer, and the first woman of Indian origin to go to space.[3][4] 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.[5] Chawla was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor,[6] and several streets, universities, and institutions have been named in her honor.[7][8][9] She is regarded as a national hero in India.[10]

Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla, NASA photo portrait in orange suit.jpg
Born(1962-03-17)March 17, 1962[1]
DiedFebruary 1, 2003(2003-02-01) (aged 40)
Aboard Space Shuttle Columbia over Texas, United States
CitizenshipIndia (1962-1991) United States (1991-2003)
Alma materPunjab Engineering College (BE)
University of Texas at Arlington (MS)
University of Colorado at Boulder (MS, PhD)
AwardsCongressional Space Medal of Honor
Space career
Time in space
31 days, 14 hours, 54 minutes[2]
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.[11] As a child, she was fascinated by aeroplanes and flying.[12] She went to local flying clubs and watched planes with her father.[13] 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.[14] Chawla went on to earn a second Masters in 1986 and a PhD[15] in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Chawla was married to Jean-Pierre Harrison.[16][17][18]


In 1988, 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.[19] 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.[20] 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 the 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,[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] Her 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.[25]

Honors and recognitionEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Birth Anniversary: Here are lesser-known facts about the first woman of Indian origin to fly to space". Hindustan Times. 16 March 2020. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  2. ^ Dismukes, Kim (1 March 2004). "Kalpana Chawla – STS-107 Crew Memorial". National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  3. ^ Salim Rizvi (11 December 2006). "Indo-US astronaut follows Kalpana's footsteps". New York: BBC. Retrieved 20 November 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.
  4. ^ Nola Taylor Redd. "Kalpana Chawla: Biography & Columbia Disaster". Space.com. Tech Media Network. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
  5. ^ "Kalpana Chawla". Retrieved 24 May 2012.
  6. ^ "Astronaut Bio: Kalpana Chawla 5/04". www.jsc.nasa.gov. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  7. ^ a b Rajghatta, Chidanand (12 July 2004). "NY has Kalpana Chawla Way". The Times of India. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
  8. ^ a b Saxena, Ambuj (14 March 2007). "Kalpana Chawla Space Technology Cell | Flickr – Photo Sharing!". Flickr. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  9. ^ a b "IBN News". Ibnlive.in.com. 3 February 2010. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  10. ^ Phillips, Leah (24 May 2017). "Impossible Journey: The Liminality of Female Heroes". Round Table. 1 (1): 7. doi:10.24877/rt.13. ISSN 2514-2070.
  11. ^ Salwi, Dilip M (20 February 2004). "Did you know Kalpana was called Monto?". Rediff.com. Archived from the original on 20 August 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  12. ^ Harrison, Jean-Pierre. The edge of time : the authoritative biography of Kalpana Chawla. Los Gatos, California. ISBN 978-0-9768279-0-0. OCLC 885972649.
  13. ^ Chawla, Kalpana. American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. April 2008. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.6028448.
  14. ^ Chawla, Kalpana (1984), MS Thesis Optimization of cross flow fan housing for airplane wing. installation, University of Texas at Arlington, p. 97
  15. ^ Chawla, Kalpana (1988), PhD Thesis Computation of dynamics and control of unsteady vortical flows, University of Colorado at Boulder, p. 147
  16. ^ Kalpana Chawla: Biography & Columbia Disaster Space.com, 2017-12-20.
  17. ^ Columbia Shuttle Mission Imagery NASA, 2003-04-16.
  18. ^ 10 years after Columbia disaster, family members remember Denver Post, 2013-01-30. "Her husband Jean-Pierre Harrison remarried and has a young son. He runs a publishing company in Los Gatos, Calif."
  19. ^ Basu, Biman (May 2012). "Book Review: Biography of Kalpana Chawla" (PDF). Science Reporter. pp. 40–41. Retrieved 6 July 2013. Born on 17 March 1962 in Karnal, Haryana
  20. ^ "Kalpana Chawla (PH.D)". Biographical Data. NASA. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  21. ^ Columbia Accident Investigation Board (August 2003). "6.1 A History of Foam Anomalies (page 121)" (PDF). Retrieved 26 June 2014.
  22. ^ Marcia Dunn (2 February 2003). "Columbia's problems began on left wing". Associated Press via staugustine.com.
  23. ^ "Molten Aluminum found on Columbia's thermal tiles". USA Today. Associated Press. 4 March 2003. Retrieved 13 August 2007.
  24. ^ Correspondent, A. "Space Shuttle Explodes, Kalpana Chawla dead". Rediff.
  25. ^ Leinbach, Michael; Ward, Jonathan H. (23 January 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 a few days later a memorial service was held for Kalpana Chawla at Zion National Monument in Utah, one of her favorite places
  26. ^ "Next Cygnus Cargo Ship Named for Columbia Astronaut Kalpana Chawla". 9 September 2020.
  27. ^ "US spacecraft named after late Indian-American astronaut Kalpana Chawla". The Indian Hawk: Latest Indian Defence News, World Defence, IDRW, Indian Army, Air Force, Navy. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  28. ^ News, Indian Defence. "US mission named after Kalpana Chawla". Indian Defense News, Indian Armed Forces, IDRW, Defence. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  29. ^ "Tribute to the Crew of Columbia". NASA JPL. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  30. ^ "ISRO METSAT Satellite Series Named After Columbia Astronaut Kalpana Chawla". Spaceref.com. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  31. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Award instituted". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 23 March 2004. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  32. ^ "NASA Names Supercomputer After Columbia Astronaut". About.com. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  33. ^ "Space Music – Rock/Pop". HobbySpace. 31 August 2005. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  34. ^ David, Peter; Star Trek: Next Generation: Before Dishonor; Page 24.
  35. ^ Kalpana Chawla International Space University Scholarship Archived March 1, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Memorial Scholarship". UTEP. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved June 10, 2008.
  37. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Award". University of Colorado. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved February 12, 2012.
  38. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Hall". University of Texas at Arlington. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  39. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Display Dedicated at Nedderman Hall". The University of Texas at Arlington. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  40. ^ "Punjab Engineering College remembers Kalpana". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on August 27, 2006. Retrieved June 10, 2007.
  41. ^ "Space Technology Cell". Kcstc.iitkgp.ernet.in. Archived from the original on 30 December 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  42. ^ "Delhi University".
  43. ^ "Pondicherry University".

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