Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, Haryana, India in 1961 to Banarasi Lal Chawla and Sanjyothi. Chawla has two sisters, Sunita and Deepa, and a brother, Sanjay. Being the youngest in the family members gave her the nickname "Montu". In 1983, she met and married Jean-Pierre Harrison, a flying instructor and aviation writer. She became a US citizen in 1990.
Her motto was : "Follow your dreams, and the brave heart fulfilled it".
Chawla completed her earlier schooling at Tagore Public School, Karnal. She earned her Bachelor of Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering at (Punjab Engineering College) in Chandigarh in 1982. She then moved to the United States in 1982 and obtained a M.S. degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984. Chawla went on to earn a second M.S. degree in 1986 and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Later that year she began working for NASA as vice president of Overset Methods, Inc. where she did Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) research on "Vertical / Short Takeoff and Landing. Chawla held a Certificate as a Flight Instructor rating for airplanes, gliders, and Commercial Pilot licenses for single and multi-engine airplanes, seaplanes and gliders. She held an Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued Technician Class Ameteur Radio license.
Kalpana Chawla joined National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 'Astronout Corps' in March 1995 and was selected for her first flight in 1998. She spoke the following words while travelling in the weightless of space. "You are just your intelligence". She had travelled 10.4 million km, as many as 252 times around the Earth. Her first space mission began on November 19, 1997 as part of the six astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. Chawla was the first Indian born woman and the second Indian person to fly in space, following cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma who flew in 1984 in a spacecraft. On her first mission Chawla travelled over 10.4 million miles in 252 orbits of the earth, logging more than 372 hours in space. During the STS-87, she was responsible for deploying the Spartan which malfunctioned, necessitating a spacewalk by Winston Scott and Takao Doi to capture the satellite. A five month NASA investigation fully exonerated Chawla by identifying errors in software interfaces and the defined procedures of flight crew and ground control. After completion of STS-87 post flight activities, Chawla was assigned to technical positions in the astronaut office, her performance in which was recognized with a special award from her peers.
In 2000, she was selected for her second flight as part of the crew of STS-107. This mission was repeatedly delayed due to scheduling conflicts and technical problems such as the July 2002 discovery of cracks in the shuttle engine flow liners.
Kalpana died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster which occured on February 1, 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, 16 minutes prior to scheduled landing ,with the loss of all seven crew members, shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107.
"Kalpana Chawla's path to become an astronaut began in Karnal, India."
"None of our astronauts traveled a longer path to space than Kalpana Chawla," U.S. President George W. Bush said. "She left India as a student but she would see the nation of her birth, all of it, from hundreds of miles above.
"Follow your dreams, and the brave heart fulfilled it""You are just your intelligence"
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