Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-American astronaut and the first woman of Indian origin to fly in space. She was born in Karnal, India on July 1, 1961 and was one of the seven crew members who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in February 1, 2003.
Chawla received her aeronautical engineering degree from Punjab Engineering College in 1982 and went on to earn a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984. After working as a research assistant at the University of Colorado, she received a PhD in aerospace engineering in 1988.
In 1988, Chawla joined NASA's Ames Research Center, where she worked on various research projects. In 1994, she was selected by NASA for astronaut training and flew her first mission as a mission specialist on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997. On this mission, she orbited the Earth for 15 days, logging over 376 hours in space.
Chawla flew her second mission on Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, but the mission ended tragically when the shuttle broke apart upon reentry into the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. The loss of Chawla and her fellow crew members was a devastating blow to the space community and to the world.
Chawla's contributions to the field of aerospace engineering and her bravery and determination as an astronaut have inspired many people around the world, especially women and young girls who aspire to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
In her memory, NASA established the Kalpana Chawla Award for Excellence, which is awarded annually to young women who demonstrate exceptional achievement in STEM fields. In addition, several schools, colleges, and universities in India have been named after her, and a number of scholarships and awards have been established in her honor.
Kalpana Chawla's legacy continues to inspire and encourage young people to reach for the stars and pursue their dreams, no matter what obstacles they may face. She will always be remembered as a pioneering astronaut and a true hero.