On 1 February 2003, India’s first spacewoman Kalpana Chawla along with the other six crew members perished when the Columbia space shuttle desintegrated just minutes before it was to land. The whole world was shocked at this tragic incident. It was her second space mission.
Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, a small town in Haryana in 1961. She got her primary education in a local school where she was just an average student. She had a great fascination for aeroplanes from very beginning.
She wanted to fly in the open sky like birds. Hence she joined Punjab Engineering College to study in aerospace engineering. There she was the first woman in this field. Luckily, she got top rank and then she went to the US for doctorate which she completed in 1988.
Kalpana was a genius. She wanted to do more and more. She joined NASA. NASA selected her to be an astronaut in 1994 and by March 1995, Chawla reported to the Johnson Space Center as a candidate in the 151th Group of Astronauts. Her path to the stars was paved with increasingly complex technical requirements which are difficult for any layman to comprehend, yet it did not deter her.
Her big moment arrived in November -December 1997, when she made her first space mission with the space shuttle flight STS-87. It was a 16-day research mission during which she studied weightlessness and the Sun’s outer atmosphere layers.
This was not the end of her life’s mission. She desired to make more and more missions. It was again a great moment for her when she was assigned to the crew of STS-107 scheduled for launch in 2003, January. The US space shuttle Columbia lifted. Kalpana and her six crew members on January 16, 2003 everything was alright.
Columbia’s crew completed 80-plus scientific research experiments during their time in orbit. They were really very happy as they had fulfilled their ambition. And now it was time to back on earth. Yes, on February 1st, after 16-day mission, Columbia was returning to earth. But the ill-fated shuttle proved disastrous just before its landing.
At an attitude of 207,000 feet over north Central Texas, Mission control lost contact and it exploded killing all seven astronauts on board. Columbia space shuttle was the first which got such an accident during the descent to earth.
Kalpana Chawla was such a heroic character who always craved for doing something adventurous. Her life itself was a great adventure. She had great love for her motherland. Even though she had taken U.S. citizenship she never forgot her native place and her country.
The then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee dedicated an Indian Space Research Organization, meterological satellite to her, calling it Kalpana-1. The Haryana Gorvenment too set up the Kalpana Chawla scholorship for girl students.
Kalpana Chawla is such a figure who, with her strong will power and her accomplishments rose to such a height. India is proud of her.