Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, India, on July 1, 1961. She was one of four children, and studied hard in school her whole childhood, having an early passion for space and being an astronaut. Her primary school allowed two girls a year to visit NASA, which may have been one of the factors that inspired her to pursue aeronautic studies. Later, she obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering--being the first woman to ever study the subject at Punjab Engineering College. Afterwards, she earned a doctorate in aeronautical engineering at the University of Colorado.
Her career started at the NASA Ames Research Center where she worked on research. She quickly moved her way through the aeronautical field, and garnered a certificate for being a flight instructor. When Chawla became a naturalized citizen in 1991, she quickly took her new opportunity to apply for the NASA Astronaut Corps.
With a year of training, she became the crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA and Computer Branches, where she helped to test new software and programs for space shuttles. Her first voyage into space was in November 1997, where she and 5 other astronauts went into space to carry out many experiments and study the outer layer of the sun. They re-entered the earth's atmosphere just over two weeks later.
Her second voyage however, ended in disaster. The shuttle STS-107 was sent into space in 2003 after several delays. Again, the seven member crew completed many experiments about astronaut health, safety, and space science. When the shuttle initially launched, a part of the insulator broke off and struck the left wing of the orbiter, which was considered minor damage at the time. Unfortunately, this was proven to be incorrect as when the shuttle reentered the atmosphere, the damage allowed heat and gases to enter the internal wing structure, which tore it apart and caused the entire spacecraft to break apart, killing all crew members aboard.
Kalpana Chawla died on February 1, 2003 in the disaster along with the other members aboard: Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Ilan Ramon, David Brown, William McCool, and Michael Anderson. Her legacy though, will live on forever as she continues to inspire young dreamers and aspiring astronauts to pursue their dreams, no matter how impossible it seems or what backgrounds they come from. As the first Indian woman in space, Chawla truly made a mark in history books, not only for her accomplishments but also for her defiant and persevering character--someone who was truly passionate and driven to pursue their dreams.
Author: Carina Sun
In Honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
We are bringing you the stories of inspirational Asian Americans from history.
5/30/20 - The Exceptional Example Ronald Takaki Set
5/27/20 - The Incredible Legacy of Kalpana Chawla
5/26/20 - When Marrying a Non-American Meant Losing Your Citizenship
5/25/20 - Honoring the 442nd Infantry Regiment
5/24/20- A Glimpse at Asian-Americans in Hollywood -- Miyoshi Umeki
5/22/20 - The Oriental Schools of San Fransisco
5/21/20 - Equality For All Colors - Yick Wo v. Hopkins
5/20/20 - An End To Police Brutality: Peter Yew's Stand
5/19/20 - Finding His Form: Linsanity in 2012
5/18/20 - Internment and Injustice: Fred T. Korematsu
5/17/20 - The Courageous Stand of Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo
5/16/20 - The Unbreakable Spirit of Wong Kim Ark
5/15/20- The Admirable Perseverance of Patsy Takemoto Mink
5/13/20 - The Lasting Legacy of Grace Lee Boggs
5/12/20-Remembering "The Forgotten" -- The Chinese migrants who built America's first Transcontinental railroad
5/11/20 - The Singing Neurosurgeon: Dr. Ayub Ommaya