Who Was Astronaut Kalpana Chawla?

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According to NASA, Kalpana Chawla was an aerospace engineer, research scientist, and the first Indian woman to fly into space. Chawla first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia as part of STS-87 in 1997. She was also part of the STS-107 mission and was killed when the Columbia orbiter broke up upon re-entry on February 1, 2003.

Kalpana Chawla grew up in Karnal, India. She was interested in spaceflight from an early age and completed a PhD in aerospace engineering in 1986. In 1988 she joined the team at NASA's Ames Research Center and was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1994. Chawla graduated as part of the 15th astronaut group in 1995.

Chawla served as mission specialist and robotic arm operator for STS-87, aiding in an EVA operation that captured a malfunctioning Spartan satellite after a failed launch. She logged over 372 hours in space during the mission.

Chawla was chosen as mission specialist for STS-107 in 2003, during which she performed a number of microgravity experiments. However, a block of foam fell from the external fuel tank during launch and irreparably damaged vital heat-shield tiles on the left wing of the orbiter. When Columbia re-entered the Earth's atmosphere at the end of its mission, the left wing suffered a structural failure that destroyed the spacecraft, killing all seven astronauts aboard.