Biography of Kalpana Chawla | Early Life, Family, Education, Age, Awards and Legacy

Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla (17 March 1962 – 1 February 2003) was an Indian-born American astronaut and aerospace engineer, the first woman of Indian origin to fly into space. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator on her inaugural flight in 1997.

Chawla made her second flight aboard STS-107, Columbia’s final mission, in 2003. Unfortunately, Chawla was one of seven crew members killed when it disintegrated upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere on 1 February 2003; posthumously she received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor as well as having multiple streets, universities, and institutions named in her memory.

About Kalpana Chawla

  • Real Name: Kalpana Chawla
  • Nickname: Montu
  • Profession: Astronaut
  • Age:  40 Years (Born 17/March/1962)
  • Born: 17 March 1962
  • Place of Birth: Karnal, Haryana India
  • Height: 163 cm Approx
  • Hair Color: Black
  • Eye Color: Dark Brown
  • Date of Death: 1 February 2003
  • Religion: Hinduism
  • Hobbies: Reading Poetry, playing Badminton, dancing
  • Nationality: American
  • Place of Death: Aboard Space Shuttle Columbia over Texas, U.S.
  • Death Cause: Space Shuttle Columbia disaster (Accident) which killed all 7 crew members
  • Zodiac sign/Sun sign: Cancer
  • Hometown: Texas, U.S.
  • School: Tagore Bal Niketan School, Karnal
  • College/University: Dyal Singh College, Karnal, Haryana
  • Kalpana Chawla Father Name: Banarasi Lal Chawla (deceased)
  • Kalpana Chawla Mother Name: Sanjyothi Chawla
  • Kalpana Chawla Brother Name: Sanjay Chawla
  • Kalpana Chawla Sister Name: Sunita, Dipa
  • College/University: Dyal Singh College, Karnal, Haryana.
    Punjab Engineering College (PEC), Chandigarh, India.
    University of Texas, Arlington, Texas, U.S.
    University of Colorado, Boulder, U.S.
  • Educational Qualifications: Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College,
    Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from University of Texas,
    Second Masters and PhD degrees in Aerospace Engineering from University of Colorado.
  • NASA Missions: STS-87, STS-107
  • Spent Combined Time in Space: 54 minutes, 14 hours and 31 days
  • Travelled Combined Distance: 10.67 million km
  • Awards (Posthumous): Congressional Space Medal of Honor, NASA Space Flight Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal
  • Marital Status: Married
  • Kalpana Affairs/Boyfriends: Jean-Pierre Harrison
  • Kalpana Husband/Spouse: Jean-Pierre Harrison
  • Marriage Date: 1983 Year
  • Children: Son- N/A, Daughter- N/A

Early life and Education

Kalpana Chawla was born on 17 March 1962 in Karnal, Haryana to a very traditional society; yet she defied expectations by becoming India’s first female astronaut. She completed her secondary education at Tagore Baal Niketan Senior Secondary School of Karnal. As she grew up, Chawla attended local flying clubs with her father to watch planes fly overhead. Chawla earned her Bachelor of Engineering in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College, India before migrating to the United States in 1982 and receiving both her Master of Science degree and PhD in aerospace engineering from University of Texas at Arlington in 1984. Additionally, in 1986 and 1988 from University of Colorado Boulder respectively.


Chawla began her professional career at NASA Ames Research Center, conducting computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research on vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) concepts using CFD simulations. Her findings can be found published in technical journals and conference proceedings. In 1993, she joined Overset Methods Inc as Vice President and Research Scientist specializing in simulating moving multiple body problems. Chawla held both a Certified Flight Instructor rating for airplanes and gliders as well as Commercial Pilot licenses for single engine, multi engine and glider aircraft. After becoming naturalized as an American citizen in April 1991, she applied for and joined NASA Astronaut Corps. Chawla became part of its ranks in March 1995 before taking her inaugural flight in 1997.

First Space Mission

Chawla began her first space mission on 19 November 1997 as part of a six-astronaut crew tasked with piloting Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. Chawla became the first Indian woman ever to go into space. Chawla spoke the following words while floating through space: “You are simply your intelligence.” Ultimately, she had traveled an estimated 10.67 million kilometers – equal to 252 times around Earth! On her initial mission, Chawla traveled over 10-4/6.5 million miles in 252 orbits of Earth logging over 376 hours (15 days and 16 hours). During STS-87, she was responsible for deploying the Spartan Satellite which malfunctioned, leading to Winston Scott and Takao Doi undertaking a spacewalk to recover it. NASA conducted a five-month investigation that exonerated Chawla by identifying errors in software interfaces and procedures used by both flight crew and ground control. Following completion of STS-87 postflight activities, Chawla was assigned technical positions within astronaut office for work on space station projects.

Second Space Mission and Death

Chawla returned to space aboard Space Shuttle Columbia during its tragic STS-107 mission, conducting nearly 80 experiments focused on Earth and space science, advanced technology development and astronaut health and safety. Due to scheduling conflicts and technical problems – like finding cracks in engine flow liners in July 2002 – this flight was repeatedly postponed until 16 January 2003 when she finally made it back aboard Columbia on that fateful mission.

At launch time for Columbia’s 28th mission – STS-107 – foam insulation detached from her external tank and struck Columbia’s port wing, which caused minor damage compared to earlier shuttle missions; some engineers suspected more serious damage was sustained. NASA limited further investigation, reasoning that its crew could not have repaired such issues had they been confirmed.

Columbia reentered Earth’s atmosphere damaged, allowing hot atmospheric gases to permeate its internal wing structure and lead to its destruction, leading to instability and eventual break up. Space Shuttle flight operations were suspended for over two years following Columbia’s return, similar to after Challenger was lost; construction on ISS was put on hold and was completely reliant upon Roscosmos State Corporation (RPSC) of Russia for supplies until Shuttle flights resumed with STS-114 mission and crew rotation began again (29 months until STS-114) returned.

Chawla perished along with her six crew members on 1 February 2003 when Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere shortly before concluding its 28th mission, STS-107. Her remains were cremated and scattered at Zion National Park in Utah according to her wishes.

Honours and Recognition

Kalpana Chawla received multiple honors and recognitions for her accomplishments as an astronaut and aerospace engineer, including:

Posthumous Awards

  • Congressional Space Medal of Honor (2003)
  • NASA Space Flight Medal (2003)
  • NASA Distinguished Service Medal (2003)
  • Laurel Wreath (2003)
  • California Distinguished Service Medal (2003)
  • Congressional Gold Medal (2004)
  • NASA Astronaut Hall of Fame (2004)
  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Fellow (2003)
  • Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Distinguished New Engineer Award (2003)
  • Texas Woman’s University Distinguished Alumna Award (2003)
  • University of Colorado at Boulder Distinguished Engineering Alumna Award (2003)
  • Punjab Engineering College Distinguished Alumna Award (2003)

Other Honors and Recognitions

  • NASA Exceptional Performance Award (1998)
  • NASA Space Flight Awareness Leadership Award (1998)
  • NASA Group Achievement Award (2003)
  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Mechanics and Control of Flight Award (2003)
  • Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Distinguished Service Citation (2003)
  • Women in Aerospace International (WAI) Aerospace Educator Award (2003)
  • National Science Foundation (NSF) Distinguished Teaching Scholar Award (2003)

Kalpana Chawla Short Biography

Kalpana Chawla (March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003) was an Indian-American astronaut and aerospace engineer who became the first woman of Indian origin to fly into space in 1997 as a mission Expert and primary robotic arm operator on Space Shuttle Columbia.

Chawla was born in Karnal, Haryana, India in 1962. She earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College in 1982, followed by master’s and doctorate degrees in aerospace engineering from Texas Arlington and Colorado Boulder respectively in 1984 and 1988 respectively.

After receiving her doctorate degree in 1998, Chawla worked as a researcher at NASA Ames Research Center in California before being selected into the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1995.

Chawla made her spaceflight debut during STS-87, which launched on November 19, 1997 and lasted 16 days. Chawla was responsible for operating the robotic arm used to deploy and retrieve the SPARTAN-2 X-ray telescope.

Chawla made her second space mission debut with STS-107, launched January 16, 2003. This 16-day mission carried out science experiments and maintained the Hubble Space Telescope; Chawla again operated its robotic arm during this expedition.

On February 1, 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crewmembers on board, including Chawla.

Chawla remains an inspiration to young people everywhere who pursue careers in science and engineering, serving as an inspirational role model for women and girls demonstrating they can achieve whatever their hearts desire.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Who was Kalpana Chawla?

Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-American astronaut and aerospace engineer. She was the first woman of Indian origin to fly to space.

When was Kalpana Chawla born?

Kalpana Chawla was born on March 17, 1962, in Karnal, India

Where was Kalpana Chawla born?

Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, India.

What have been Kalpana Chawla’s achievements?

Kalpana Chawla participated on two Space Shuttle missions as a mission specialist: STS-87 in 1997 and STS-107 in 2003, becoming the first Indian woman ever to fly in space. She conducted numerous experiments during these trips including research on plant reproduction in microgravity environments as well as how materials behave under extreme conditions in space.

How did Kalpana Chawla die?

Kalpana Chawla died on February 1, 2003 as part of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, when it disintegrated during its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board.

What is Kalpana Chawla’s legacy?

Kalpana Chawla remains an inspiration to people worldwide. Her achievements as an early pioneer of space exploration have inspired other women and girls to follow in her footsteps and pursue their own ambitions.

What are some of the awards and honors that Kalpana Chawla received

Kalpana Chawla has received multiple honors and awards in recognition of her efforts, such as the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, NASA Space Flight Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal – plus she was inducted into the NASA Astronaut Hall of Fame!

Have any educational institutions or buildings been named after Kalpana Chawla?

Kalpana Chawla’s name has been immortalized through various educational institutions and buildings around the world, including her namesake space center in Haryana, India and her namesake school in Fremont, California.

What was Kalpana Chawla childhood like?

Kalpana Chawla was an intelligent and inquisitive child. She had a keen interest in airplanes and space exploration, excelled at school, and excelled at her studies.

What were Kalpana Chawlas educational qualifications?

Kalpana Chawla earned her undergraduate aeronautical engineering degree from Punjab Engineering College in India. Following this she obtained both a master’s and PhD degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Texas Arlington before going on to do her doctoral thesis work at Colorado Boulder.

How did Kalpana Chawla become an astronaut?

Kalpana Chawla earned her PhD and began work as an aerospace engineer at NASA Ames Research Center before being selected into their astronaut program in 1994.

What has Kalpana Chawla contributed to space exploration?

Kalpana Chawla conducted numerous experiments in space, such as research into plant reproduction in microgravity and material behavior in space. She even helped deploy the Spartan Satellite during her debut space mission!

What is the significance of Kalpana Chawla first space flight?

Kalpana Chawla made history when she became the first Indian-origin woman to fly into space in 1993. Her flight inspired people around the globe and proved that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.

What has the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster meant for Kalpana Chawla’s legacy?

Kalpana Chawla remains an icon worldwide and her legacy lives on through her many accomplishments that motivate others to pursue their goals and follow in her footsteps. The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster was tragic, but that has not diminished her legacy as an inspiration to people everywhere. Her achievements continue to serve as motivation to achieve them all over again.

How is Kalpana Chawla remembered in India today?

Kalpana Chawla is revered in India as a national hero, serving as an inspirational role model to young people everywhere and inspiring many more to pursue their goals. Her legacy lives on and continues to empower others towards realizing their dreams.

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