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Kalpana Chawala: The Woman Who Made The Difference

Kalpana’s dream break to fly in space came in November 1997, aboard the space shuttle Columbia on flight STS-87

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The forename Kalpana denotes
The forename Kalpana denotes "idea" or "imagination." Wikimedia Commons
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  • Kalpana Chawla continues to be an inspirational force for youth all-over, especially girls
  • Kalpana Chawla earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988
  • In the year 2000, Chawla was selected for her second voyage into space, serving again as a mission specialist on STS-107

Kalpana Chawala is one of the inspiring personality and an Ideal for numerous people, it’s been 18 years since her passing, but Indo-American astronaut, Kalpana Chawla continues to be an inspirational force for youth all-over, especially girls. Born in Karnal-Punjab, Kalpana overcame all odds and fulfilled her dream of reaching for the stars.

Kalpana achieved a grade 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 master’s 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, Kalpana was selected as an astronaut candidate. She was appointed as a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches after a year of training, where she worked with Robotic Situational Awareness Displays and tested software for the space shuttles.

kalpana chawala’s Death was a very uncertain demise of one of the finest astronaut the world ever had.

In 1988, Kalpana’s dream of joining NASA finally came true. Wikimedia Commons
In 1988, Kalpana’s dream of joining NASA finally came true. Wikimedia Commons

Early life: Kalpana Chawala was born on March 17, 1962, in Karnal, Haryana. Born into a middle-class family, she completed her schooling from Tagore Baal Niketan Senior Secondary School, Karnal and her B.Tech in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College at Chandigarh, India in 1982.

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Kalpana Chawala was the youngest of four children in her family. The forename Kalpana denotes “idea” or “imagination.” Her full name is pronounced CULL-puh-na CHAV-la, though she often went by the nickname K.C.

Journey in the United States: To fulfil her desire of becoming an astronaut, Kalpana aimed to join NASA and moved to the United States in 1982. She obtained a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984 and a second Master’s in 1986. She then earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Wedding bells: There’s always time for romance. In 1983, Kalpana tied the knot with Jean-Pierre Harrison, a flying instructor and an aviation author.

Work at NASA: In 1988, Kalpana’s dream of joining NASA finally came true. For the position of Vice President of Overset Methods, Kalpana Chawala was appointed at NASA Research Center and was later assigned to do Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research on Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing concepts.

Kalpana’s dream break to fly in space came in November 1997, aboard the space shuttle Columbia on flight STS-87. The space shuttle made 252 orbits of the Earth in just over two weeks. The space aircraft completed a number of experiments and observing tools on its trip, including a Spartan satellite, which Chawla deployed from the shuttle. The satellite, which studied the outer layer of the sun, malfunctioned due to software errors, and two other astronauts from the shuttle had to perform a spacewalk to recapture it.

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Kalpana Chawala Rocket Crash

In the year 2000, Chawala was selected for her second voyage into space, serving again as a mission specialist on STS-107. The mission was delayed several times and finally launched in 2003. Over the course of the 16-day flight, the crew completed more than 80 experiments.

In 1994, Chawla was selected as an astronaut candidate. She was appointed as a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches after a year of training. Wikimedia Commons
In 1994, Chawla was selected as an astronaut candidate. She was appointed as a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches after a year of training. Wikimedia Commons

On the morning of Feb. 1, 2003, the space shuttle returned to Earth, intending to land at Kennedy Space Center. At launch, a briefcase-sized piece of insulation had broken off and damaged the thermal protection system of the shuttle’s wing, the shield that protects it from heat during re-entry. When the aircraft moved through the atmosphere, hot gas streaming into the wing caused it to break up. The unstable craft rolled and bucked, pitching the astronauts about. Less than a minute passed before the ship depressurized killing the crew. The shuttle broke up over Texas and Louisiana before plunging into the ground. This incident was the second major disaster for the space shuttle program, following the 1986 explosion of the shuttle Challenge.

In the disastrous damage of the space shuttle, Columbia took the lives of seven astronauts. One of those, Kalpana Chawla, was the first Indian-born woman in space.

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The Aborted Mission To Relaunch In December: NASA

In August, a hole appeared in a Soyuz capsule docked to the ISS that caused a brief loss of air pressure and had to be patched.

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Russian Rocket
Astronaut Anne McClain, left, is seen during training at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas. VOA

The American astronaut who will hitch the first ride on a Russian rocket since last month’s aborted launch and dramatic emergency landing is confident that her scheduled trip in December on a rocket that she calls a “workhorse” will go smoothly.

Astronaut Anne McClain, along with a Russian cosmonaut and a Canadian astronaut, will man the Dec. 3 mission. It will be the Russian-made Soyuz-FG’s first crewed flight since Oct. 11, when U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and a Russian cosmonaut landed unharmed on the Kazakh desert steppe after the rocket bound for the International Space Station failed in mid-air two minutes after liftoff.

NASA, rocket
Specialists watch broadcasts from the Soyuz spacecraft showing astronaut David Saint-Jacques of Canada, Oleg Kononenko of Russia and astronaut Anne McClain of the U.S. attending the final qualification training for their upcoming space mission in Star City near Moscow, Russia. VOA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the United States retired its Space Shuttle program in 2011, though the agency has announced plans for test flights carrying two astronauts on commercial rockets made by Boeing and SpaceX next April.

“I do see the incident that happened on Oct. 11 with our launch abort not as a failure but as a success,” McClain told Reuters in a telephone interview from Russia. “It actually bolsters my confidence in the rocket and in the processes that we have.

“We’re confident in the vehicle and getting back to it,” McClain said of the Soyuz rocket, which she called “the workhorse of the space program.”

After lifting off from Kazakhstan’s Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur last month, a damaged sensor caused one of the rocket’s three booster stages to separate improperly, falling inward on the rocket and jolting it off its ascent two miles above ground, Russian investigators announced earlier this month.

Russian Rocket
The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying the crew of astronaut Nick Hague of the U.S. and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Russia blasts off to the International Space Station (ISS) from the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. VOA

During Assembly

Video from inside the capsule showed the two men being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred, their arms and legs flailing. Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin can be heard saying, “That was a quick flight.”

The accident was the first serious launch problem experienced by a crewed Soyuz space mission since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before a launchpad explosion.

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In August, a hole appeared in a Soyuz capsule docked to the ISS that caused a brief loss of air pressure and had to be patched. Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has said that it could have been made deliberately by someone during manufacturing or while the craft was in space.

McClain and two other crewmates will launch from the same launchpad in Baikonur, joining the space station’s current three-person crew. (VOA)