Kalpana Chawla Biography: Death Anniversary, Family, Age, Education, Space Missions, Awards, Legacy, and More

Kalpana Chawla Biography: Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian- born woman to go into space in 1997. She lost her life on 1 February 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia was destroyed. Let us take a look at Kalpana Chawla's early life, family, education, career, space missions, honours and recognition, legacy, etc.
Kalpana Chawla Biography
Kalpana Chawla Biography

Kalpana Chawla Biography: How can we forget the first Indian-born woman to go into space. She is none other than Kalpana Chawla. Today is her death anniversary. On this day in 2003, she lost her life when the space shuttle Columbia was destroyed. While re-entering into Earth's atmosphere, the spacecraft broke out and killed all seven astronauts on board. 

Despite never returning to Earth, her legacy has lived on. Here we are describing in short her life story that not only inspires young people but also women who want to pursue their dream. Her passion and hard work allowed her to achieve her dreams. Take a look!

Kalpana Chawla Biography

Nickname Montu
Born 17 March 1962
Place of Birth Karnal, India

1 February 2003

Aboard Space Shuttle Columbia over Texas, U.S.


Father: Banarasi Lal Chawla

Mother: Sanjyothi Chawla

Siblings 4 ( She is the youngest of four children)
Alma mater Punjab Engineering College (BE)
University of Texas at Arlington (MS)
University of Colorado at Boulder (MS, PhD)
Awards Congressional Space Medal of Honour 
The NASA Space Flight Medal
The NASA Distinguished Service Medal
Selection Selected by NASA in December 1994
Missions STS-87, STS-107

Kalpana Chawla Biography: Family, Husband, Child, Age, Early Life and Hobbies

She was born on 17 March 1962 in Karnal, India. Her father was Banarasi Lal Chawla and her mother was Sanjyothi Chawla. She was the youngest of four children. She was called by her parents Montu until she started school. When she entered education, Chawla picked her own name. The name 'Kalpana' means "idea" or "imagination". She often went by the nickname K.C.  She enjoyed flying, hiking, back-packing, and reading.

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Kalpana Chawla Biography: Education

She attended Tagore Baal Niketan Senior Secondary School, Karnal. She earned a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College, India. In 1980s, she moved to the United States and obtained a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. She did a Doctorate of philosophy in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988.

Kalpana Chawla Biography: Career, becoming an Astronaut

She started work in 1988 at NASA Ames Research Center in the area of powered-lift computational fluid dynamics. She concentrated her research on simulation of complex air flows encountered around aircraft including the Harrier in "ground-effect." 

Kalpana Chawla joined Overset Methods Inc., Los Altos, California, as Vice President and Research Scientist to form a team with other researchers specializing in the simulation of moving multiple body problems in 1993. Her work was to develop and implement efficient techniques to perform aerodynamic optimisation. Her project works results are documented in technical conference papers and journals.

In December 1994, she was selected by NASA. She reported to the Johnson Space Center in March 1995 as an astronaut candidate in the 15th Group of Astronauts.

After completing one year of training, she became a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches. Here, she worked with Robotic Situational Awareness Displays and tested software for the space shuttles.

Kalpana Chawla Biography: Space Missions

Kalpana Chawla's first opportunity to fly in space came in November 1997, aboard the space shuttle Columbia on flight STS-87. In just over two weeks, the shuttle made 252 orbits of the Earth. On the trip, the shuttle carried out several experiments and observing tools including a Spartan Satellite, which Chawla deployed from the shuttle. 

The satellite that studied the outer layer of the sun malfunctioned because of some software errors and the other two astronauts had to perform a spacewalk to recapture it from the shuttle.

Second Space Mission: Disaster strikes

Kalpana Chawla was selected for her second voyage into space in 2000. She served again as a mission specialist for STS-107. Various times, the mission was delayed, and finally, in 2003, it was launched. Over a 16-days flight, the crew completed more than 80 experiments. On 1 February 2003 morning, the space shuttle returned to Earth and was intended to launch at Kennedy Space Center. During the launch time, as per the official, a briefcase-sized piece of insulation and broken off. It damaged the thermal protection system of the shuttle's wing. It was the shield that protected it from heat during re-entry. As the shuttle passed through the atmosphere, hot gas streaming into the wing caused it to break up.

The craft became unstable, rolled, and bucked, pitching the astronauts about. The ship depressurised in less than a minute and crew members were killed. The shuttle broke up over Texas and Louisiana before plunging into the ground. It was the second major disaster following the 1986 explosion of the shuttle Challenger.

In a crew, all seven were killed. The crew included Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Ilan Ramon, David Brown, William McCool, Michael Anderson, and Kalpana Chawla.

Over the course of Chawla's two missions, she logged 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space. After her first launch, she said, "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."

Kalpana Chawla Biography: Awards

She was posthumously awarded the  Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

Kalpana Chawla Biography: Legacy

The Columbia event was officially investigated and reported to help understand what happened. Also, how to prevent the tragedy from re-occurring in future spaceflights. For example in 2003, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. In 2008, NASA"s Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Report was released.

Various documentaries have been produced about the crew of Columbia including "Astronaut Diaries: Remembering the Columbia Shuttle Crew" (2005), "Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope" (2013).

In 2010, the University of Texas dedicated a Kalpana Chawla memorial at the Arlington College of Engineering. 

A commercial cargo spacecraft named after Kalpana Chawla was launched to the international space station in October 2020. 

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus capsule was named the S.S. Kalpana Chawla. 

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Who is Kalpana Chawla?

Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian- born woman to go into space in 1997. She lost her life on 1 February 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia was destroyed.

How did Kalpana died in space?

On 1 February 2003, Kalpana Chawla lost her life when the space shuttle Columbia was destroyed. While re-entering into Earth's atmosphere, the spacecraft broke out and killed all seven astronauts on board.

When was Kalpana Chawla born?

Kalpana Chawla was born on 17 March 1962 in Karnal, India.
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