(Last Updated on : 22/10/2012)
Kalpana Chawla can perhaps be termed as the most luminous Indian-born American astronaut, who took India and the bravado and valour of Indian women to empyreal heights. Indeed, from childhood Kalpana`s eyes were always trained at the stars, which is where she found her final home. Although born in a small provincial town of India, where even today human-driven cycle-rickshaws outnumber motorized vehicles, she believed herself to be a citizen of the world and was always free from all prejudices of caste, race and religion. Despite the fact that she married a French-American and went into space aboard an American spacecraft, Kalpana lived simply like an Indian. Somewhat short, approximately five feet and dark-eyed, Kalpana`s spoken English was free from an American accent. She enjoyed Indian musical concerts and Bharatanatyam
performances. She was a vegetarian.
Early Life of Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla was born in the city of Karnal in Haryana
, in a home of three elder sisters and one elder brother. During her early life, Kalpana was nurtured to an archetypal Indian family in the mid-20th century, with education taking centre-stage. However, she was unusual in every thing she did.
Kalpana Chawla as a student was hugely interested in science and always desired to make it into engineering and the science of space. Hence her educational life pivoted around that very subject only. Hence Kalpana took admission to DAV College for Women for her pre-University lessons. Later, she got herself admitted to Dyal Singh College
, just to pursue engineering from the illustrious Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh
. Each of her dreams were answered, owing to her tremendous will force and zealousness towards studying aeronautics.
Kalpana Chawla in NASA
It was precisely in NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) that Kalpana Chawla lived her dream to travel and die in space. And it happened at last. After completing her education in aeronautics; Kalpana received a call from the MCAT Institute, San Jose, California as a research scientist. The project was made under the guidance under NASA. For her research work in NASA, Kalpana had to study several complex features of earth and its gravity. Yet, she always yearned to fly and kept wishing on to finally get selected for a NASA mission to space.
Inspiration of Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla was extremely proud of her birth-place and made every effort to bring it into the limelight. During space flights she would proudly point it out to her fellow-astronauts. Once, during the second space flight she remembered her closest friend, Daisy Chawla, who died in a road accident. In fact, despite her celebrity status, she took pains to track down her former teachers, classmates and friends in India and showed a keen desire to stay in touch with them. Her affectionate and humble nature won the hearts of all who came in contact with her.
Kalpana always loved and enjoyed her work. She was always highly attentive to the task before her, whether it was a classroom lecture or the performance of an experiment aboard the shuttle. Even during briefings to astronauts, while others simply listened, she always took notes. Above all, she possessed this inner striving to do something extraordinary in life. Kalpana Chawla always urged young people to take time to figure out what they wanted to do in life and what they enjoyed doing. Once that is done, she urged them to strive hard to achieve that goal. She always believed the journey to be as important as the goal.
Kalpana had a strong desire to go to Mars, fly over its canyons and die in space and she was equally concerned about the well-being of the earth. She always urged young people to listen to the sounds of nature and take care of the planet. During her space trips, she took many breathtaking photographs of the earth for various terrestrial studies later on the ground. When she was in space, she always felt a sense of connection with everyone on earth. It was Kalpana Chawla`s long cherished desire to visit India again but that was not to be. A few months after her tragic death, Jean Pierre Harrison, her husband visited India. He went to her school and college, met her family, teachers and friends and scattered her ashes over the Himalayas. Her short but eventful life in Karnal district
, in Haryana
and later in the United States thus deserves special mention, in which she perhaps had tried to achieve every single wish she harnessed since girlhood.
Maiden Space Mission of Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla`s maiden space mission was like an impossible dream coming true to her, owing to her severe perseverance and determination to make it big in aeronautics. Her first mission was to fly in Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87, which began in the late months of 1997. She was a part of the six-member international crew on board. Kalpana had many emotional moments with her members during her journey into depths of darkness. Kept under strict discipline and control in the maiden mission, Kalpana had to monitor several functions of the planet, including zero gravitational activities. After initial minor malfunctions of Payload Bay, Kalpana`s first mission was a huge success after touchdown. Overnight Kalpana Chawla had become a legend.
Final Space Mission of Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla`s final space mission was in association with NASA yet again, on board the Space Shuttle Columbia, the one in which she made her first voyage, with flight STS-107. In spite of a first flight, she was most eager to resume a space flight, a rare among astronauts. Her mission this time however was purely scientific, with more complex work to be performed. Kalpana was assigned as the Flight Engineer and the Mission Specialist for STS-107. Her experiments in space would bring about path-breaking results for earth and its population.
However, everything was cut short quite pathetically, when Columbia accidentally broke down just 16 minutes before landing, burning and annihilating everything and everyone with it on 1st February, 2003.
Awards of Kalpana Chawla
* Congressional Space Medal of Honour
* ASA Space Flight Medal
* NASA Distinguished Service Medal
The Kalpana Chawla "Spirit of Columbia" Scholarship
After her death, the Kalpana Chawla "Spirit of Columbia" scholarship is introduced by Blue Ocean Institute. This scholarship is named in honour of Kalpana Chawla who perished aboard the Columbia Space Shuttle in 2003. She chose Carl Safina`s Song for the Blue Ocean as one of the few personal belongings to accompany her in space. While on that mission, in a personal email, she stated that after returning from space, she would meet Safina and devote herself to conservation. The remains of Kalpana`s copy of the book, recovered by NASA from the spot where the catastrophe occurred, are enshrined in Blue Ocean Institute`s headquarters .It is a reminder that the power of passionate words can quite literally encircle the Earth. A year after her decease, her family and friends established the "Kalpana Chawla Spirit of Columbia Fund" at Blue Ocean Institute. Blue Ocean Institute offers a $5,000 scholarship annually to a graduate student who is passionate in studying the Marine science.