For day 11 of our Women’s History Month celebration, we recognize: Dr. Kalpana Chawla!
Dr. Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian-born woman to go into space. Chawla was born in Karnal, India on July 1, 1961, as the youngest of four. Before becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States in the 1980s, Chawla attended Punjab Engineering College, where she earned her degree in aeronautical engineering. In 1988, Chawla received her doctorate degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado, and began working at NASA’s Ames Research Center. In 1994, Chawla was selected as an astronaut candidate where she received a year of training. Following her training, Chawla became a representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches where she tested software for the various space shuttles. In November of 1977, Chawla flew aboard her first space shuttle flight on STS-87 as the first Indian-born woman in space. In 2000, Chawla was selected as mission specialist for STS-107. As STS-107 made its return to Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 1, 2003, a piece of insulation damaged the thermal protection system of the shuttle’s wing, disintegrating the space shuttle Columbia as it descended. Tragically, Chawla, along with her crew members, were killed on board. In 2010, the University of Texas dedicated a memorial to Kalpana Chawla at the Arlington College of Engineering, where she had received her master’s degree.