Kalpana Chawla death anniversary is a day to not only remember the late spacewoman but also how she inspired generations of Indian women. Nineteen years ago, today, the world witnessed the horrific scene of the Columbia space shuttle disintegrating minutes before it was to land on earth. In it was a woman who made millions of young girls and women dream of going to space one day. Astronaut and engineer Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian woman to go to space.
Even after two decades, she is alive in the hearts of girls who were laughed at when they expressed the desire to conquer space and to become astronauts. She taught young Indian girls to dream, to follow their hearts with perseverance and a vision. “When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system,” she had said.
Kalpana Chawla had passed away on February 1, 2003, along with six other crew members in the Space Shuttle Columbia STS-107.
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Chawla’s is one of those rare stories that continue to spark hope and inspiration, despite ending in a tragedy. There was such passion in her dreams, that they have outlived the news and manner of her demise.
From Karnal to NASA
She graduated from Tagore School in Karnal in 1976 and went on to finish a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College in 1982. Then moved to the US in the same year to get a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington, in 1984 she received the degree. She went on to get a second degree in 1986 and then a PhD in the same subject in 1988 from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Chawla joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Ames Research Centre to work on power lift computational fluid dynamics. She first travelled to space on November 19, 1997, along with six astronauts on the Space Columbia flight STS-87. On January 16, 2003, Chawla returned to space for another mission- which ended up being her last.
In 2004, the Government of India recognised her contribution in the field of astronomy and constituted an award named The Kalpana Chawla Award, which acknowledges budding women scientists. There is also a planetarium in Kurukshetra which is named after her.
Urging women never give up on their dreams, she had once said, “I would say if you have a dream, follow it. It doesn’t really matter whether you are a woman or from India or from wherever.” Chawla inspired women by her words and her achievements. She inspired them with her outlook on life and determination in each move. On her death anniversary, we remember her and thank her for teaching us to never hesitate in outgrowing our surroundings and the limitations set for us by society.