On her 57th birthday, citizens across the country celebrated Kalpana Chawla — the first Indian-born woman to fly in space and only the second Indian person to do so. From politicians to sportspersons, people from different walks of life took to social media to pay their respects to the aeronautical engineer, who died in 2003 in a Space Shuttle disaster. Union Ministers Mahesh Sharma, Suresh and Prakash Javadekar, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi and sportspersons like Virendra Sehwag, Mohammad Kaif and VVS Lakshman tweeted out their wishes on the astronaut’s birthday
Born and brought up in Karnal, Chawla had a degree in aerospace engineering before moving on to join NASA. She lost her life in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003 which led to the death of six other astronauts. The Indian astronaut died just 16 minutes before landing as the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. In what would turn out to be her last communication with her family, Kalpana had said, “Our mission is successful and we are all fine here.”
Chawla obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College before immigrating to the United States and becoming a naturalized citizen in the 1980s. She earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988, having previously obtained her masters degree from the University of Texas. She began working at NASA's Ames Research Center the same year, working on power-lift computational fluid dynamics.
In 1994, Chawla was selected as an astronaut candidate. After a year of training, she became a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches, where she worked with Robotic Situational Awareness Displays and tested software for the space shuttles.