Some Lesser Known Facts About Kalpana Chawla
- Kalpana’s parents hail from the Multan district of West Punjab (now Pakistan). When her father, Banarsi Lal, Chawla was leaving his hometown of Sheikhopura, communal riots broke out. He was one of the few survivors who managed to reach India safely but without any possessions.
- In order to make a living, her father became a street hawker and started selling commodities like candies, dates, soaps, groundnuts, etc. However, luck soon bestowed upon him and he opened his own textile shop in the locality. A few years later, he became a self-taught engineer and began manufacturing tyres when the Indian market was flooded with the imported ones. Meanwhile, he married Sanyogitha, whose family also came from the same region in Pakistan.
- Strangely, Kalpana’s parents did not give her any formal name and referred to her only by her nickname, ‘Monto’. However, one day when her aunt took Kalpana for admission to a nearby nursery school, the principal asked her name. ‘We have three names in mind — Kalpana, Jyotsna and Sunaina, but we haven’t decided,’ replied her aunt. The principal then asked the young girl if she would like to choose any of these names, to which the girl replied ‘Kalpana’. Hence, Kalpana chose her own name!
- From a young age, Kalpana was fascinated by stars and planets. Once when she and her classmates built a physical geography map of India covering the floor of an entire classroom in her school, she covered its ceiling completely with stars (sparkling dots marked on blackened newspapers)!
- Whenever the teachers of her class asked students to draw a scenery, she would always draw airplanes flying in the sky.
- Although Kalpana could never manage the highest marks in her class, she was always among the top five students.
- When she saw the pictures of the red planet, Mars, in a weekly magazine, she decided to pursue a career in the field of aerospace.
- In the year 1988, she began working at the NASA Ames Research Center, where she did Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) research on Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing concepts. 5 years later, she was appointed as the Vice President of the Overset Methods, Inc at Nasa Research Centre.
- The year 1997 proved to be a pivotal year in her career as her long-awaited dream of ‘walking’ in the space finally became a reality. Her first flight was on Space Shuttle Columbia STS-87 as a mission specialist. With this, she became the first Indian-origin women to go to space.
- Kalpana was a certified pilot with a commercial license for seaplanes, multi-engine airplanes, and gliders. In addition, she was also a certified flight instructor for glider and airplanes.
- In her first mission, Kalpana travelled over 10.5 million miles in 252 orbits of the earth, thus staying for more than 372 hours in space.
- In 2000, Kalpana was selected for her second flight as part of the crew of doomed Space Shuttle Columbia. The mission was repeatedly delayed and Kalpana returned to space 3 years later in 2003.
- Just when the space shuttle was about to conclude its STS-107 mission, things went haywire. The doomed Space Shuttle disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, leading to the death of all the seven crew members. An investigation into the cause of the accident revealed a damaged aluminum heat-insulating tile on the left wing of the shuttle.
- Following the accident, NASA issued a statement in which it said that the scientists at the research centre knew beforehand that the shuttle had been damaged and the crew might not survive re-entry. However, they refrained themselves from informing it to the astronauts as they had no possible way to rescue them.
- In honour of the deceased braveheart, the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihar Vajpayee, renamed the satellite ‘MetSat-1’ to ‘Kalpana-1’.
- Even the USA did not move away from acknowledging the efforts of Chawla. As a result, the 74th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City was renamed to ‘Kalpana Chawla street’.
- NASA has even dedicated a supercomputer to Kalpana.
- ‘Star Trek’ novelist Peter David has named a shuttlecraft- The Chawla, in his book, Star Trek: The Next Generation: Before Dishonor.
- The NASA Mars Exploration Rover once discovered 7 peaks in a chain of hills on the Red Planet. Hence the space agency, as a tribute to the 2003 Columbia disaster, named the entire chain as ‘Columbia Hills’ and all 7 peaks after each of the seven members.
- The Haryana state government has set up a medical college and hospital in Karnal worth INR 650 crore in her honour.
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