"When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system." – Kalpana Chawla
The whole world witnessed a grave tragedy when 15 years ago, NASA's Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated. As the crew was returning home to be welcomed, the accident claimed their lives mercilessly. Among them was Kalpana Chawla, the proud woman who was and is an inspiration to women worldwide.
Kalpana, the first Indian woman in space would have been 56 today. On her death birthday, we reminisce snippets from the life of this inspirational lady.
She was born on March 17, 1962 in Karnal, Haryana. Being from an average family, she decided to beat her circumstances to become the first Indian woman in space.
She completed her B.Tech in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College. She wasn't a topper, but one among the brightest in her class.
She obtained her MSc degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas after she moved to the USA in 1982.
Her skills were also profoundly portrayed in the fields of dancing, cycling, running, poetry and dancing.
She was named Manto but afterwards, she selected the name Kalpana and used the other as a nickname.
In 1983, she married Jean-Pierre Harrison. He was an aviation author and flying instructor.
Before becoming an astronaut, she held different positions in the organisation. She was Vice President of Overset Methods, Inc at NASA Research Centre.
Long before becoming an astronaut, she accomplished her love for flying by becoming a Certificated Flight Instructor for glider and airplanes. Also, she had a commercial pilot license for the glider, multi-engine airplanes, and seaplanes.
She became a USA citizen in 1991, she applied for the membership of NASA Astronaut corps.
Then-Prime Minister of India, IK Gujral, spoke to her during her STS-87 mission. This proud Indian was supposed to visit this country but sadly it never took place.
She received NASA Distinguished Service Medal and Congressional Space Medal of Honor and NASA Space Flight Medal.
Sadly she is not among us anymore but is still alive in the memory of thousands of her admirers and also among the things named after her.
-A hill on Mars
-A planetarium in Kurukshetra, near Karnal
-A NASA Supercomputer
-India's first weather satellite, the Kalpana 1
-An asteroid, the 51826 Kalpana Chawla. It circles between Jupiter and Mars.