Guwahati: On her 60th birthday, citizens across the country celebrated Kalpana Chawla — the first Indian-born woman to fly in space and only the second Indian person to do so.
From politicians to sportspersons, people from different walks of life took to social media to pay their respects to the aeronautical engineer, who died in 2003 in a Space Shuttle disaster.
As a child, Kalpana Chawla was fascinated by aircraft. When she grew up, Kalpana Chawla fulfilled her desire to be an astronaut and became the first Indian woman to go to space.
Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, Haryana, on March 17, 1962. After completing her initial studies in her hometown, she went to pursue aeronautical engineering at Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, Kalpana Chawla moved to the US in 1982.
She obtained a Mater’s of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in 1984 and, in 1988, a doctorate of philosophy in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado.
Shortly thereafter, Kalpana Chawla joined NASA’s Ames Research Centre.
She was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in December 1994.
Her first journey to space was in 1997 on Space Shuttle Columbia. She flew as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator on this mission.
She flew in a second space mission, STS-107, in 2003. The 16-day flight was a dedicated science and research mission.
While entering Earth’s atmosphere on its return, the space shuttle disintegrated, killing all 7 crew members.
Her remains were cremated and scattered at National Park in Utah, US. This was her wish.
MetSat-1, the first satellite under the Met-Sat series, which was launched on September 12, 2002 by India, was renamed Kalpana-1 to honour her.
Called KC by her friends, Kalpana was admired for her kindness and her constant striving for perfection. Astronaut Office Chief Kent Rominger said in a NASA report, “She had a terrific sense of humour and loved flying small airplanes with her husband and loved flying in space. Flying was her passion. She would often remind her crew as her training flow would be delayed and become extended, she would say, ‘Man, you are training to fly in space. What more could you want?’”