Learn About Kalpana Chawla: The Trailblazing Indian-American Woman Who Made History as the First Female Astronaut of Indian Origin to Journey into Space
Kalpana Chawla was a pioneering Indian-American astronaut who has inspired many with her accomplishments. Born on March 17, 1962, in Karnal, Haryana, Chawla was the first Indian-born woman to venture into space. Her fascination with aircraft and flying began in her childhood when she would visit local flying clubs with her father to see the planes. She pursued a degree in aeronautical engineering at Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, and later moved to the United States in 1982 to fulfill her dream of becoming an astronaut. In 1984, she earned a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington and completed her PhD in the same field from the University of Colorado in 1988. She joined NASA in the same year.
Chawla’s first space mission was on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997, where she served as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. During this mission, she completed 252 orbits of the earth in 15 days and 16 hours. Her second and final journey into space was on STS-107 Space Shuttle Columbia, which was a dedicated science and research mission. Unfortunately, while returning to Earth on February 1, 2003, the space shuttle disintegrated over Texas, killing all seven crew members, including Chawla.
Despite her untimely death, Chawla’s contributions to space and science research have been recognized with many posthumous medals and awards from both the Indian and US governments. Known for her kindness and constant striving for perfection, Chawla was affectionately called “KC” by her friends.
Chawla’s legacy continues to inspire young women in science and engineering. MetSat-1, the first satellite under the Met-Sat series, was renamed Kalpana-1 in her honor. The Karnataka government established the Kalpana Chawla Award to recognize young women scientists. In 2017, the Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College was established in Karnal, Haryana.
On her birth anniversary, Chawla’s life and legacy are celebrated, serving as a reminder of the importance of following one’s dreams, working hard, and making a difference in the world.