The inspiring life story of Kalpana Chawla

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India’s first female astronaut, Kalpana Chawla is an inspiration for millions of girls in the country. Born on 17 March, 1962, in Karnal town of Haryana, Kalpana dared to dream big! By the time she met with a tragic death while on a space mission, she had already become a sensation in the male dominated world!

On February 1, 2003, the whole world was eagerly waiting for the return of the Columbia Space Shuttle from its successful space expedition. But the shuttle came down crashing instead, killing all its seven crew members.

The entire world was shocked! Kalpana still continues to inspire the girls in India, they consider her a superwoman who defied all odds to pursue her passion and emerge successful in life.

Incredible journey

in a space shuttle

Chawla always made unconventional choices in her life. She got herself enrolled at the Punjab Engineering College to pursue Aeronautical Engineering, it was a very rare career path for a woman in India in the 1980s.Kalpana completed her bachelor’s degree in the year 1982. 

She got admission into the University of Texas the very same year. She received her Masters of Science (MS) in Aerospace Engineering from the university two years later, in 1984. She continued to study and finally received her PhD in the subject from the University of Colorado.

Dreams big

Kalpana Chawla joined NASA in 1988 for research in the area of powered-lift computational fluid dynamics. She got selected in the Astronaut Corps in 1994. At Houston’s Jackson Space Center, she started learning how to do spacewalks, how to sustain oneself in zero-gravity, and also about crisis management in space.


In the year 1997, Kalpana Chawla became the first Indian-born woman to travel to space. Her expedition on Columbia STS-87 lasted for 15 days. The crew researched the space’s weightless environment and the Sun’s outer atmospheric layers. The then prime minister of India, IK Gujral congratulated Kalpana for her achievements and said that she made the nation proud. 

She was just 40 years old when she became part of the crew for her second space mission in 2003. Tragedy struck when STS-107 was returning to Earth after a 16-day space expedition.


Fateful day

On February 1, 2003, the whole world was glued to their television screens. They were excited to welcome the astronauts back to the Earth. It was a historic moment for India as well.

But things did not happen as expected. Hot air entered into the shuttle’s wing on entering the Earth’s atmosphere. It damaged the shuttle eventually leading to its disintegration just 16 minutes before landing.  

The sad demise of the crew members broke numerous hearts across the world.

Kalpana’s death was a major shock to Indians as the country lost one of its brightest minds. But the brave lady continues to live in the hearts of millions of Indians. In her memory, the Punjab Engineering College, named one of their girl’s hostels after her. Kalpana won several awards and accolades throughout her life. She was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and NASA Space Flight Medal for her great contributions in the field. 

Kalpana Chawla was hardworking, courageous and passionate in her life. She was always determined to achieve her goals and make her dreams come true. She is an inspiration for people across the globe to work hard for achieving their goals, to become successful in their lives.


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