Kalpana Chawla, the first woman of Indian origin to go to space in 1997, was remembered on 17 March 2017, which marks her 55th birth anniversary. Born on 17 March 1962 in Karnal, Punjab, the Indian American astronaut first flew on the space shuttle Columbia in 1997. She was the mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator of the mission. In 2003, Kalpana Chawla was killed along with six other crew members during the disaster of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Chawla’s first space mission: On 19 November 1997, Chawla flew to the space as part of the six-astronaut crew in the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. With this, she became the first India born women to fly into the space and the second Indian after cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma who flew in 1984 on the Soyuz T-11.
Second space mission: On 16 January 2003, Chawla went to space aboard Space Shuttle Columbia STS-107 mission. The spacecraft was destroyed while returning back to earth. It was destroyed after a piece of foam insulation broke off from the space shuttle external tank, which struck the left wing of the orbiter making the spacecraft unstable and slowly break apart.
Chawla’s responsibilities during this journey to space included the microgravity experiments, for which the crew conducted nearly 80 experiments studying earth and space science, advanced technology development, and astronaut health and safety.
Born in Punjab, Chawla moved to the United States in 1982, where in 1984, she earned her Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. While chasing her dream to be an astronaut, she earned her second Masters in 1986 and a PhD in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Before moving to US, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. In April 1991, she became a naturalized US citizen. After becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, Chawla applied for the NASA Astronaut Corps and joined the corps in 1995. In 1996, she was selected for her first flight.