Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-American astronaut who became the first Indian woman to fly in space. At the age of 40, Kalpana was one of the seven crew members aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia who died during re-entry over Texas on February 1, 2003.
Even today, Kalpana Chawla is a role model for young girls around the world and especially in India for her incredible journey from Karnal, Punjab, India (where she was born) to NASA (where she fulfilled her dream of flying into space).
"On one of the night passes, I dimmed the lights in the flight deck and saw the stars. 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 said after her first flight.
Here are four things to know about Kalpana Chawla:
1. Kalpana completed her early education in Punjab.
She was not always the top student in her class, but she had a very inquisitive mind. After finishing school from Karnal, she studied aeronautical engineering at Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. In 1982 she moved to the United States to earn her Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas, and her doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado.
2. Kalpana became a naturalized US citizen and applied to become a NASA Astronaut in April of 1991.
In 1988 she began working at the NASA Ames Research Center and then in March of 1995 she joined the Astronaut Corps.
3. Kalpana became the first Indian-born woman and the second Indian person to fly in space.
Her first flight was on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. The mission began on November 19, 1997 and she was part of a six-astronaut crew.
In 2000, Kalpana was selected for her second flight as a part of the crew of STS-107. Over the course of the 16-day flight, the crew completed more than 80 experiments and on February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
Her second flight was also her last. She logged 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space over the course of her astronaut career.
4. Kalpana was posthumously honored with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, NASA Space Flight Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal.