KALPANA Chawla was born on July 1, 1961 in Haryana’s Karnal district. She was inspired by India’s first pilot JRD Tata and always wanted to fly. She did her schooling from Karnal’s Tagore School, and later studied Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab University. To give wings to her aeronautical dream, she moved to America. After obtaining a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from University of Texas in 1984, four years later, Dr Dhawla earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from University of Colorado. In the same year, she started working at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Soon, Chawla became a US citizen and married Jean Pierre Harrison, a freelance flying instructor. She also took keen interest in flying, hiking, gliding, travelling and reading. She loved flying aerobatics and tail-wheel airplanes. She was a strict vegetarian and was an avid music lover.
Chawala joined NASA’s space programme in 1994 and her first mission to space began on November 19, 1997 as part of a 6-astronaut crew on Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. She logged more than 375 hours in space, as she travelled over 6.5 million miles in 252 orbits of the earth during her first flight. While onboard, she was in charge of deploying the malfunctioning Spartan Satellite. Interestingly, she was not only the first Indian-born but also the first Indian-American in space.
As a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator, Chawla was one of the seven crew members killed in the space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.