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Mrs. Kalpana Chawla

Mar 17, 1962 - Feb 01, 2003

Mrs. Kalpana  Chawla


  • Name : Mrs. Kalpana Chawla
  • Date of Birth : Mar 17, 1962
  • Passed Away On : Feb 01, 2003
  • Religion : Hindu
  • Death Place : Aboard Space Shuttle Columbia over Texas, U.S.
  • Address : Karnal, Haryana (Was then in Punjab)
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Life Summary

    Kalpana Chawla was an Indian Astronaut born on March 17 in the year 1962. However, her official date of birth was changed to 1 July 1961 to allow her to join the school at a young age. She was a bright student in the school and fared well in academics. 


    Her Education

    Kalpana Chawla completed a degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College. She later on immigrated to the United States and got the citizenship in the early 1980s. There, in the United States, she earned the Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the coveted University of Texas at Arlington in the year 1984. 

    She went on to obtain a second Masters degree in the year 1986 and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering in the year 1988 from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

    Her Career

    Following are the highlights of her career:

    • 1988: She started working at the NASA Ames Research Center. It is here that she completed Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research on Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing concepts. 

    • 1993:  She joined Overset Methods, Inc. as Vice President and Research Scientist. Her specialization was in the simulation of moving multiple body problems. She also received a Certificated Flight Instructor rating for gliders, airplanes and Commercial Pilot licenses for single and multi-engine airplanes, gliders and seaplanes.

     • 1991: Kalpana became a naturalized citizen of the United States in April of the year 1991. She applied for the NASA Astronaut Corps. In the same year. 

    • 1995: She joined the Corps in March of 1995

    • 1996: She was selected for her first flight mission


    Kalpana went on for her first space mission on November 19, 1997. She accompanied five more astronauts as a crew member on board. The six-astronaut crew flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87, and Chawla became the first Indian-born woman and the second Indian person to fly in space, after Rakesh Sharma who flew in the year 1984 on the Soyuz T-11. During this mission, Chawla travelled for more than 372 hours in the earth orbit i.e. the shuttle made 252 orbits of the Earth in two weeks.


    • She deployed a Spartan satellite that studied the outer layer of the sun. It malfunctioned due to software errors, and the team had to undergo a spacewalk to recapture it and rectify the errors.
    • Necessitated a spacewalk by Winston Scott and Takao Doi to capture the satellite.

    After the successful completion of STS-87 post-flight activities, she was upscaled to the technical positions in the astronaut office to work on the space station. Also, her performance during the mission was appreciated and applauded by her peers.


    In the year 2000, Chawla was selected for her second space mission as a part of the crew of, STS-107. She was assigned as a mission specialist on this voyage. The mission was repeatedly delayed due to scheduling issues and other technical problems but finally launched in the year 2003 on 16 January. Over the course of the 16-day flight, the crew completed more than 80 experiments. 


    She conducted microgravity experiments, 

    The crew conducted about 80 experiments that included studying the earth and space science, advanced technology development, and astronaut health and safety. 

    It was during the launch of STS-107, Columbia's 28th mission that a piece of foam insulation broke off from the Space Shuttle’s external tank. The broken piece struck the left wing of the orbiter causing serious damage to the spacecraft.  

    NASA managers did not delve deep into the investigations as they were of the opinion that the crew could not have fixed the problem even if it had been confirmed because it wasn’t possible and the spacecraft in any case whatsoever would have met the same fate that it had.  

    While re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, the Columbia space shuttle became unstable and shattered to pieces due to the penetration of the hot atmospheric gases that destroyed the internal wing structure of the space shuttle.

    Following the disaster, Space Shuttle flight operations were suspended for more than two years. It was a similar move that was observed after the Challenger disaster. Additionally, the construction of the International Space Station (ISS) was put on hold, and the station relied entirely on the Russian Roscosmos State Corporation for the resupply. The situation continued for about 29 months until Shuttle flights resumed with STS-114 and 41 months for crew rotation until STS-121.


    Kalpana Chawla died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster that occurred on February 1, 2003. The ill-fated space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas while trying to re-enter into the Earth's atmosphere killing all of the seven crew members. The spacecraft was about to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107 when the tragic event happened. It was just 16 minutes before the landing that the space shuttle burnt killing all on the board. 

    The accident was believed to be caused by a damaged aluminium heat-insulating tile present on the left wing of the shuttle. The damaged portion couldn’t prevent the atmospheric conditions and gaseous pressures in the upper layers of the earth’s atmosphere to cause further damage to the spacecraft, and this resulted in heating up of the entire shuttle eventually burning it up into flames.


    Kalpana Chawla is an Indian female astronaut who will always remain in our hearts. She will always be remembered with teary eyes as she was the pride of the nation. She received many laurels during and post her life. Some of the awards that she received were:

    She was posthumously awarded the following:

    Congressional Space Medal of Honour
    NASA Space Flight Medal
    NASA Distinguished Service Medal


    Father, Mother, Spouse


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