Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla (17 March 1962 – 1 February 2003) was an Indian-born American astronaut and mechanical engineer who was 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.

Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla, NASA photo portrait in orange suit.jpg
Born( 1962-03-17)March 17, 1962[1]
Karnal, East Punjab state, India (now Haryana state)
Died1 February 2003(2003-02-01) (aged 40)
CitizenshipIndia (1962–1991)
United States (1991–2003)
Alma materTagore Baal Niketan Senior Secondary School, Karnal Punjab Engineering College (BE)
University of Texas at Arlington (MS)
University of Colorado at Boulder (MS, PhD)
AwardsU.S. Congressional Space Medal of Honor ribbon.svg Congressional Space Medal of Honor

NasaDisRib.svg NASA Distinguished Service Medal

SpaceFltRib.svg NASA Space Flight Medal
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
Scientific career
FieldsAerospace engineering
ThesisComputation of dynamics and control of unsteady vortical flows (1988)

Her second flight was on STS-107, the final flight of Space Shuttle Columbia 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 on Feb 1, 2003.[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]

Early life and educationEdit

Kalpana Chawla was born on 17 March 1962 in Karnal, Haryana.[11] She completed her schooling from Tagore Baal Niketan Senior Secondary School, Karnal. She went to local flying clubs and watched planes with her father.[12] Her date of birth was falsified by her family to 1 July 1961, to allow her to become eligible for the matriculation exam.[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.[16]


In 1988, Chawla 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 1997.

First space missionEdit

Her first space mission began on 19 November 1997, as part of the six-astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. Chawla was the first Indian woman to go in space. She spoke the following words while traveling in the weightlessness of space, "You are just your intelligence." She had traveled 10.67 million km, as many as 252 times around the Earth. On her first mission, Chawla traveled 10.4/6.5 million miles in 252 orbits of the earth, logging more than 376 hours (15 days and 16 hours) in space.[18][6] 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 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.

The tragic missionEdit

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

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 16 January 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 port 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.

Chawla died on 1 February 2003, in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, along with the other six crew members, when 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] 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.[23]

Honors and recognitionEdit

Personal lifeEdit

On 2 December 1983, Kalpana Chawla was married to Jean-Pierre Harrison, at age of 21.[16] After the Columbia disaster, Harrison was approached by filmmakers to make a movie on Kalpana's life, but he refused, as he prefers to keep their life private.[44] Harrison has since remarried and has a young son. He runs a publishing company in Los Gatos, California.[45]

In popular cultureEdit

Mega Icons (2018–2020), an Indian documentary television series on National Geographic about prominent Indian personalities, dedicated an episode to Chawla's achievements.[46]

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 November 2020. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  2. ^ Dismukes, Kim (7 May 2009). "Kalpana Chawla – STS-107 Crew Memorial". National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Archived from the original on 6 November 2004. 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". NBC News. Retrieved 24 May 2012.
  6. ^ a b "Astronaut Bio: Kalpana Chawla" (PDF). NASA. May 2004. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  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. Archived from the original on 27 September 2009. 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. ^ Harrison, Jean-Pierre. (2011). The edge of time : the authoritative biography of Kalpana Chawla. Los Gatos, California. ISBN 978-0-9768279-0-0. OCLC 885972649.
  12. ^ Chawla, Kalpana. American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. April 2008. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.6028448.
  13. ^ Salwi, Dilip M (20 February 2004). "Did you know Kalpana was called Monto?". Rediff.com. Archived from the original on 20 August 2000. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  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 Boulder, p. 147
  16. ^ a b Kalpana Chawla: Biography & Columbia Disaster Space.com, 20 December 2017
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ "Kalpana Chawla biography*". www.kcgmc.edu.in. Retrieved 1 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ "6.1 A History of Foam Anomalies (page 121)" (PDF). Columbia Accident Investigation Board. August 2003. Retrieved 26 June 2014.
  20. ^ Marcia Dunn (2 February 2003). "Columbia's problems began on left wing". Associated Press via staugustine.com.
  21. ^ "Molten Aluminum found on Columbia's thermal tiles". USA Today. Associated Press. 4 March 2003. Retrieved 13 August 2007.
  22. ^ Correspondent, A. "Space Shuttle Explodes, Kalpana Chawla dead". Rediff.
  23. ^ 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 978-1-62872-852-1. A a few days later a memorial service was held for Kalpana Chawla at Zion National Monument in Utah, one of her favorite places
  24. ^ "Next Cygnus Cargo Ship Named for Columbia Astronaut Kalpana Chawla". 9 September 2020.
  25. ^ "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.
  26. ^ News, Indian Defence. "US mission named after Kalpana Chawla". Indian Defense News, Indian Armed Forces, IDRW, Defence. Retrieved 4 October 2020. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  27. ^ "Tribute to the Crew of Columbia". NASA JPL. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  28. ^ "Lunar crater Chawla". IAU. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  29. ^ "ISRO METSAT Satellite Series Named After Columbia Astronaut Kalpana Chawla". Spaceref.com. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  30. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Award instituted". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 23 March 2004. Archived from the original on 13 July 2004. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  31. ^ "NASA Names Supercomputer After Columbia Astronaut". About.com. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  32. ^ "Space Music – Rock/Pop". HobbySpace. 31 August 2005. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  33. ^ David, Peter; Star Trek: Next Generation: Before Dishonor; Page 24.
  34. ^ Kalpana Chawla International Space University Scholarship Archived 1 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Memorial Scholarship". UTEP. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved June 10, 2008.
  36. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Award". University of Colorado. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved February 12, 2012.
  37. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Hall". University of Texas at Arlington. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  38. ^ "Kalpana Chawla Display Dedicated at Nedderman Hall". The University of Texas at Arlington. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  39. ^ "Punjab Engineering College remembers Kalpana". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on August 27, 2006. Retrieved June 10, 2007.
  40. ^ "Space Technology Cell". Kcstc.iitkgp.ernet.in. Archived from the original on 30 December 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  41. ^ "Delhi University".
  42. ^ "Pondicherry University".
  44. ^ Dhar, Abira (27 April 2017). "Exclusive: Kalpana Chawla's Husband Denies Rights to Make Biopic". The Quint. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  45. ^ 10 years after Columbia disaster, family members remember The Denver Post, 30 January 2013.
  46. ^ "Mega Icons Season 2 Episode 4". Disney+ Hotstar. Retrieved 12 June 2021.

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