Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian woman in space, would have turned 56 today if she were alive. Chawla died following the fateful accident on February 1, 2003 when Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon its entry to the earth’s atmosphere. Chawla died along with six other astronauts.
Chawla was born in Punjab and wanted to become an aerospace engineer. She was influenced by watching the planes from the local flying clubs.
“Every once in a while, we’d ask my dad if we could get a ride in one of these planes. And, he did take us to the flying club and get us a ride in the Pushpak and a glider that the flying club had,” Chawla had said.
Chawla completed her degree in aeronautical engineering from the Punjab Engineering College in 1983, and moved to the United State of America to accomplish her dream of working with NASA. She attend graduate school at the University of Texas – Arlington and completed her master’s degree in aerospace engineering in 1984. Chawla completed her doctorate in aerospace engineering in 1988, following which she started her career with the American Space Agency.
Chawla was admired by all for her constant efforts to strive for perfection. Astronaut Office Chief Kent Rominger said in a NASA report, “She had a terrific sense of humor 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?’”
Chawla was very excited about space odyssey and said the ascent, re-entry, and landing of the spacecraft were some of the most exciting moments of her space journey.
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution newspaper, shortly after her death in 2003, reported that she once told her brother Girish Chawla that she hoped she would die in a crash.