Kalpana Chawla was the first female of Indian origin to go to space. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and a primary robotic arm operator.
Born in Karnal on 17th March, 1962, Chawla was the youngest of her four siblings. After getting a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjabs Engineering College, India, she moved to the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984. Chawla then went on to earn her second Masters in 1986 and a PhD in Aerospace Engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado Boulder. She began working as NASA’s Ames Research Centre the same year, working on power- lift computational fluid dynamics.
Chawla’s first opportunity to fly in space came in November 1997, as a part of the six-astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. This big opportunity also credited Kalpana Chawla as the first Indian woman to fly in space. The shuttle made 252 orbits of the Earth in just over two weeks. The shuttle carried a number of experiments, including a Spartan satellite that Chawla deployed from the shuttle. The satellite, which studied the outer layer of the sun, malfunctioned due to software errors, and two other astronauts from the shuttle had to perform a spacewalk to recapture it.
In 2000, Chawla was selected for her second voyage into space, serving again as a mission specialist on STS-107. The mission was delayed several times, and finally launched in 2003. Over the course of the 16- day flight, the crew completed more than 80 experiments.
Kalpana Chawla died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster that occurred on February 1, 2001. She was killed along with the other six crew members, when the Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107. With her two missions in space, Chawla had logged a total of “30 days, 14 hours and 54 minutes in space”.