Astronaut Kalpana Chawla, the American-Indian NASA astronaut was the first Indian women to travel into space and during her second space mission, Chawla was one among the seven astronauts who lost their lives in the Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy on February 1, 2003.

15 years from today, NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre was crowded by top NASA brass and families of seven astronauts who were returning from NASA’s space mission STS-107 in Columbia space shuttle. Everyone present at the Kennedy Space Centre on February 1, 2003 were waiting to welcome home the seven astronauts – Commander Rick Husband, pilot Willie McCool, payload commander Michael Anderson, payload specialist Ilan Ramon and mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark. But two sonic booms that always rings on arrival of the space crew never rang and the loudspeakers continuously heard Mission Control repeatedly calling Commander Rick Husband, without any reply.

Moments after entering the Earth’s atmosphere, space shuttle Columbia broke apart while re-entry over East Texas and Louisiana. The space shuttle broke into eighty four thousand pieces, big and small and there were no survivors of the STS-107 mission accident. The attempt to get back into home turned out to be a death sentence for all seven astronauts aboard the Columbia space shuttle. Columbia was lost, and so were the seven crew members and India lost its first India-born woman in space. But she will always be remembered as the first Indian woman to travel in space, a dreamer and a rather bigger achiever.

Born in Karnal, India, on July 1, 1961, Chawla who was the youngest of four children and graduated as an aeronautic engineer in 1982 from Punjab Engineering College. Then, she moved to US with a dream to join NASA and completed her doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988. Chawla then joined NASA’s Ames Research Centre and worked on power-lift computational fluid dynamics. She became a naturalised United States citizen in 1991 and applied to the NASA Astronaut Corps, which she joined in 1995 and in 1997 she went for her first space mission for 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space. In 2000 she was again selected for her second space mission, the Columbia which proved to be her last mission ever. 15 years since that fateful day, Kalpana Chawla and all six of her Columbia colleagues are still remembered by the world as the heroes they were.

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