Remembering Kalpana Chawla: India’s First Female Astronaut Who Inspired Many

Kalpana Chawla’s death anniversary is not just a day to remember the late spacewoman but to recollect how she inspired generations of Indian women. On February 1, 2003, the Columbia space shuttle crashed minutes before landing on earth.  

All seven astronauts, including Kalpana Chawla, onboard the spacecraft were killed in the crash. Astronaut and engineer Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian woman to go to space.  

Even after two decades, she is an inspiration to scores of girls to conquer the world. “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,” she had said.  

Journey From Karnal, Haryana, To NASA  

Kalpana,  born in Karnal, Haryana, in 1962, moved to America at the age of 20.  

Graduated from Tagore School in Karnal in 1976, Kalpana completed a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College in 1982. In the same year, she moved to the US and enrolled for a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. Later she secured a second degree in 1986 and then a PhD in the same subject in 1988 from the University of Colorado at Boulder. 

In 1995, Kalpana joined NASA as an astronaut and was selected for her first flight in 1998. She spent 372 hours in space and completed 252 Earth orbits on her first trip to space.  

Interestingly, she was also active in extracurricular activities- she was a poet and used to participate in school dance programmes.  

Kalpana was the youngest of four sisters and brothers at home and was fondly called Montu. Though Kalpana had told her father that she wanted to be an engineer in class 8, her father wanted to be a doctor or a teacher instead.  

Kalpana Chawla’s final rites were performed at Zion National Park in Utah, USA.  

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