From Karnal To Outer Space, No One Has Had A Life Quite Like Kalpana Chawla

“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.” – Kalpana Chawla told journalist Raj Chengappa.

Kalpana Chawla is a name we all are well aware of. She made it known to the world and how! She made her journey worth remembering.

Only at three years of age, Kalpana knew that Monto, the name her parents had given her, wasn’t suitable to her taste. Therefore, she chose to name herself the Hindi translation of imagination– Kalpana- and sustained Monto as her nickname.


That says a lot about the woman of substance she was and the foresightedness she held. Kalpana was so eager to study that her parents had to rewrite her official birthday as 1 June 1961 from the original, 17 March 1962, so as to suit the age requirement for schooling even though she was younger than the minimum age limit.


It’s a remarkable feat on her part to have outgrown the societal norms in the 20th century.


She left India and submitted herself to higher studies in the USA in 1982 after acquiring a Bachelor’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. Six years later, she had become a proud achiever of double masters and a PhD in aerospace engineering.

She held the science education, that she got in her school in India, responsible for her rooted interest in space, states a report published in The Telegraph.

Things seem to have turned out rather smoothly for Kalpana:

She worked as the Vice President and Research Scientist at Overset Methods, Inc. She obtained a Certificated Flight Instructor rating for aeroplanes and gliders. She obtained the commercial pilot licenses for gliders, seaplanes and single and multi-engine aeroplanesBut she wasn’t stopping at that. 

When Kalpana became a naturalised citizen of the US in ’91, she joined NASA Astronaut Corps (in 1995). Merely one year into her joining NASA, Kalpana was selected for her first flight in 1996. 


She flew in the Columbia Space Shuttle, in 1997, which would cover a distance of 10.67 million km around the earth. That distance equals 252 rounds of the earth. That’s when she wrote her name in History- she became the first woman (and second person) of Indian Origin to fly into space.

She returned to space, after her first successful flight, to embark on her second flight in 2003. However, unfortunately, that turned out to be her last.

Video Screengrab/YouTube

On 1st February 2003, 16 days into the STS-107 mission, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated, over Texas and Louisiana, as it was coming into the earth’s orbit and the “disaster” took the lives of all the seven people, including Kalpana, aboard.

Kalpana Chawla’s name remains unforgotten and it will be so, forever. Here’s remembering her on her birthday, the 17th of March. 

You can also check out the conversation she had with the Indian PM (1997-98) I.K. Gujral here: