Kalpana Chawla wasthe first Indian American astronautand first Indian woman in space. She has been a role model to several women in terms of achievement and contributions to the field of aeronautics.
Kalpana Chawla was born on the 1st of July, 1961 in a small town in Karnal located in the state of Haryana. Her parents, Banarasi Lal Chawla and Sanjyothi had two other daughters named Sunita and Deepa and a son named Sanjay. Kalpana was the youngest in her family and hence, she was the most pampered too.
She got educated at the Tagore Public Schooland her Bachelor of Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering at Punjab Engineering College at Chandigarh in 1982.She was the first woman to study aeronautical engineering in her batch. She moved to the United States in 1982 and obtained a M.S. degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984. Chawla went on to earn a second M.S. degree in 1986 and a PhD in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
In 1988, Kalpana Chawla started work at NASA Ames Research Center in the area of powered-lift computational fluid dynamics. Her research concentrated on simulation of complex air flows encountered around aircraft such as the Harrier in "ground-effect." Following completion of this project she supported research in mapping of flow solvers to parallel computers, and testing of these solvers by carrying out powered lift computations. In 1993 Kalpana Chawla joined Overset Methods Inc., Los Altos, California, as Vice President and Research Scientist to form a team with other researchers specializing in simulation of moving multiple body problems. She was responsible for development and implementation of efficient techniques to perform aerodynamic optimization. Results of various projects that Kalpana Chawla participated in are documented in technical conference papers and journals.
Selected by NASA in December 1994, Kalpana Chawla reported to the Johnson Space Center in March 1995 as an astronaut candidate in the 15th Group of Astronauts. After completing a year of training and evaluation, she was assigned as crew representative to work technical issues for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches. Her assignments included work on development of Robotic Situational Awareness Displays and testing space shuttle control software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory.In November, 1996, Kalpana Chawla was assigned as mission specialist and prime robotic arm operator on STS-87. In January 1998, she was assigned as crew representative for shuttle and station flight crew equipment, and subsequently served as lead for Astronaut Offices Crew Systems and Habitability section. She flew on STS-87 (1997) and STS-107 (2003), logging 30 days, 14 hours and 54 minutes in space.
On the other hand, Kalpana Chawla created history for being the first Indian woman to travel in a space shuttle. She had the privilege of journeying as far as 10.4million km. This approximately adds up to 252 times around the Earth's orbit that comprised of 372 hours in space.
Her first space mission began on November 19, 1997 as part of the six-astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. Chawla was the first Indian-born woman and the second Indian person to fly in space, following cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma who flew in 1984 in a spacecraft. On her first mission, Chawla traveled over 10.4 million miles in 252 orbits of the earth, logging more than 372 hours in space. During STS-87, she was responsible for deploying the Spartan Satellite which malfunctioned, necessitating a spacewalk by Winston Scott and Takao Doi to capture the satellite. A five-month NASA investigation fully exonerated Chawla by identifying errors in software interfaces and the defined procedures of flight crew and ground control.
After the completion of STS-87 post-flight activities, Chawla was assigned to technical positions in the astronaut office to work on the space station, her performance in which was recognized with a special award from her peers.
In 2000, she was again assigned on her second flight mission as a part of Flight STS-107. Kalpana's responsibility included microgravity experiments. Along with her team members, she undertook a detailed research on advanced technology development, astronaut health & safety, the study of Earth and space science. During the course of this mission, there were several mishaps and cracks were detected in the shuttle engine flow liners. This delayed the project until 2003.
Kalpana Chawla died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster which occurred on February 1, 2003, when the Space Shuttle disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, with the loss of all seven crew members, shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107.