Categories: American Notables | Space Flight Disasters | NASA Astronauts | Space Shuttle Astronauts | Space Shuttle Columbia | Space Shuttle Columbia Crew Members | Congressional Space Medal of Honor | NASA Distinguished Service Medal | NASA Space Flight Medal.
Kalpana Chawla (March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003) was an American astronaut and the first woman of Indian origin in space.
|1962||Born in Karnal, Punjab, India|
|1982||Bachelor of Engineering in Aeronautical Engineering, Punjab Engineering College.|
|1984||Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering, University of Texas.|
|1986||Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering, University of Colorado.|
|1988||PhD in Aerospace Engineering, University of Colorado. Began working at NASA Ames Research Center.|
|1994||Selected by NASA in Astronauts Group 15. |
|1997||Flew on Columbia STS-87 as MS1 with Kevin Kregel, Steven Lindsey, Winston Scott, Takao Doi and Leonid Kadeniuk. Awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal, her first of 2. |
|2003||Flew on Columbia STS-107 as MS2 with Rick Husband, William C. McCool, David M. Brown, Michael P. Anderson, Laurel B. Clark and Ilan Ramon. Awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the NASA Space Flight Medal, her second of 2.  Died when the Columbia broke apart during reentry.||
|2004||Awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. ||
When Kalpana Chawla emigrated to the United States from India in the 1980s, she wanted to design aircraft. The space program was the furthest thing from her mind.
"That would be too far-fetched," the 41-year-old engineer said in an interview earlier this year. But "one thing led to another" and she was chosen as an astronaut in 1994 after working at NASA's Ames Research Center and Overset Methods Inc. in Northern California.
Chawla was the first India native to fly on a space shuttle but the second in space, after Rakesh Sharma, who flew on an Indo-Soviet mission in 1984.
She was a hero in her native country, which has launched satellites for years and is preparing for a moon orbit this decade. One Indian news agency even tracked Columbia's flight so it could tell readers the exact minute they could wave to the skies to hail their countrywoman.
In a 1998 interview with India Today, Chawla said she never thought about being "the first or second someone" in space. "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."
Chawla enjoyed flying aerobatics and tail-wheel airplanes. She told reporters before the Columbia flight that J.R.D. Tata, who flew the first mail flights in India, captivated her imagination and prompted her to take up aeronautics as a career.
On her only other spaceflight, in 1997, she made mistakes that sent a science satellite tumbling out of control. Other astronauts had to go on a spacewalk to capture it. NASA later acknowledged that the instructions to the crew may not have been clear.
"I stopped thinking about it after trying to figure out what are the lessons learned, and there are so many," she said. "After I had basically sorted that out, I figured it's time to really look at the future and not at the past."
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