Kalpana Chawla was born in 1961in a  Punjabi family at Karnal, Haryana, India.  Kalpana’s parents were Banarasi Lal Chawla and Sanjyoti.   Kalpana in Sanskrit means "imagination". Her interest in flying was inspired by J. R. D. Tata, a pioneering Indian pilot and industrialist.

Kalpana Chawla did her earlier schooling at Tagore Public School, Karnal. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh in 1982. She moved to the United States in 1982 and obtained a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington (1984). Chawla earned a second Master of Science degree in 1986 and a PhD in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Later that year she began working for NASA Ames Research Centre as vice president of Overset Methods, Inc. where she did CFD research on V/STOL.  Chawla held a Certificated Flight Instructor rating for airplanes, gliders and Commercial Pilot licenses for single and multiengine airplanes, seaplanes and gliders. She held an FCC issued Technician Class Amateur Radio license with the call sign KD5ESI. She met and married Jean-Pierre Harrison, a flying instructor and aviation writer, in 1983 and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1990.

From a very young age, JRD Tata and his maiden flight had captured her imagination. She too dreamt of flying and reaching out to the stars and planets. Her fondness for flying saw her joining the local flying club. She acquired a certified flight instructor's license and commercial pilot's license for single- and multiple-engine land and seaplanes. She also became skilled in aerobatics. Finally in 1994, her efforts paid when out of 2962 applicants for a space mission, NASA chose 19 and Kalpana's name figured in it. Kalpana had worked hard towards it. She would say: "If you look up to the top of the mountain, then climbing it may seem an impossible task. But if you focus on the next step and take it one step at a time, then you certainly will be able to do it." That is exactly what she did. She very dedicatedly charted out her course, stuck to the path and took it in stride ONE STEP AT A TIME.

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In 1988, Kalpana Chawla started work at NASA Ames Research Center in the area of powered-lift computational fluid dynamics. Her research concentrated on simulation of complex air flows encountered around aircraft such as the Harrier in "ground-effect." Following completion of this project she supported research in mapping of flow solvers to parallel computers, and testing of these solvers by carrying out powered lift computations. In 1993 Kalpana Chawla joined Overset Methods Inc., Los Altos, California, as Vice President and Research Scientist to form a team with other researchers specializing in simulation of moving multiple body problems. She was responsible for development and implementation of efficient techniques to perform aerodynamic optimization. Results of various projects that Kalpana Chawla participated in are documented in technical conference papers and journals

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Chawla joined the NASA astronaut corps in March 1995 and was selected for her first flight in 1998. Her first space mission began on November 19, 1997 as part of the six astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. Chawla was the first Indian-born woman and the second person of Indian origin to fly in space, following cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma who flew in 1984 in a Soviet spacecraft. On her first mission Chawla travelled over 10.4 million miles in 252 orbits of the earth, logging more than 360 hours in space. During STS-87, she was responsible for deploying the Spartan Satellite which malfunctioned, necessitating a spacewalk by Winston Scott and Takao Doi to capture the satellite. A five-month NASA investigation fully exonerated Chawla by identifying errors in software interfaces and the defined procedures of flight crew and ground control. After the completion of STS-87 post-flight activities, Chawla was assigned to technical positions in the astronaut office, her performance in which was recognized with a special award from her peers. In 2000 she was selected for her second flight as part of the crew of STS-107. This mission was repeatedly delayed due to scheduling conflicts and technical problems such as the July 2002 discovery of cracks in the shuttle engine flow liners. On January 16, 2003 Chawla finally returned to space abroad Columbia on the illfated STS-107 mission. Chawla's responsibilities included the SPACEHAB/FREESTAR microgravity experiments, for which the crew conducted nearly 80 experiments studying earth and space science, advanced technology development, and astronaut health and safety. Chawla's last visit to India was during the 1991–1992 new year holiday when she and her husband spent time with her family. For various reasons, Chawla was never able to follow up on invitations to visit India after she became an astronaut.

 STS-87 Columbia (November 19 to December 5, 1997). STS87 was the fourth U.S Microgravity Payload flight and focused on experiments designed to study how the weightless environment of space affects various physical processes, and on observations of the Sun's outer atmospheric layers. Two members of the crew performed an EVA (spacewalk) which featured the manual capture of a Spartan satellite, in addition to testing EVA tools and procedures for future Space Station assembly. STS-87 made 252 orbits of the Earth, travelling 6.5 million miles in in 376 hours and 34 minutes. STS-107 Columbia (January 16 to February 1, 2003). The 16day flight was a dedicated science and research mission. Working 24 hours a day, in two alternating shifts, the crew successfully conducted approximately 80 experiments. The STS-107 mission ended abruptly on February 1, 2003 when Space Shuttle Columbia and the crew perished during entry, 16 minutes prior to scheduled landing.

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US space shuttle Columbia disintegrated shortly before landing on  Saturday morning, killing the seven crew members  on board ,including Indian American Kalpana Chawla. Witnesses in and near Waco and Dallas, Texas, reported seeing the space shuttle breaking up around 8 am local time, about 16 minutes before its scheduled landing at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Local cameramen captured several vapour trails in a clear blue sky as the shuttle broke up. The explosion occurred during the hottest part of re-entry, called the zipper effect, in which the panels come off. Columbia was returning to earth after a 16-day mission and was commanded by Texan Rick Husband, who was on his second mission. It was also the second mission for Karnal, Haryana-born Kalpana Chawla after her debut flight in 1997

Posthumously awarded  Congressional Space Medal of HONOUR  NASA Space Flight Medal  NASA Distinguished Service Medal  Defence Distinguished Service Medal


Kalpana Chawla Memorial Scholarship program was instituted by Indian  students association (ISA) at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in  2005 for meritorious graduate students . Asteroid 51826 Kalpana chawla,  one of seven citations named after the Columbia's crew On February 5,  2003, India's Prime Minister announced that the meteorological series of  satellites, "METSAT", will be renamed as "KALPANA".   The first satellite of the series, "METSAT-1", launched by India on  September 12, 2002 will be now known as "KALPANA-1". "KALPANA-2" is  expected to be launched by 2007.  74th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City has been  renamed 74th Street Kalpana Chawla Way in her honour. The University  of Texas at Arlington (where Chawla obtained a Master of Science degree  in Aerospace Engineering in 1984) opened a dormitory named in her  honour, Kalpana Chawla Hall, in 2004.  Kalpana Chawla Award  was instituted by the government of Karnataka in  2004 for young women scientists .The girls hostel at Punjab Engineering  College, is named after Kalpana Chawla. 

In addition, an award of INR twenty five thousand, a medal, and a certificate is instituted for the best student in Aeronautical engineering department NASA has dedicated a super computer to Kalpana . One of Florida Institute of Technology's student apartment complexes, Columbia Village Suites, has halls named after each of the astronauts, including Chawla . NASA Mars Exploration Rover mission has named seven peaks in a chain of hills, named the Columbia Hills, after each of the seven astronauts lost in the Columbia shuttle disaster, including Chawla hill after Kalpana Chawla . Steve Morse from the band Deep Purple created a song called "Contact Lost" in memory of the Columbia tragedy along with her interest in the band. The song can be found on the album Bananas . Her brother, Sanjay Chawla , remarked "To me, my sister is not dead. She is immortal. Isn't that what a star is? She is a permanent star in the sky. She will always be up there where she belongs."Novelist Peter David named a shuttlecraft, the Chawla, after the astronaut in his 2007 Star Trek novel, Star Trek: The Next Generation: Before Dishonour . Government of Haryana has made a Planetarium after her name called as Kalpana Chawla Planetarium in JOYTISAK Kurukshetra Indian Institute of Technology, Kharapur started the Kalpana Chawla Space Technology Cell in her honour.