(This story was first published on 1 February 2017. It is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Kalpana Chawla’s death anniversary.)
On 1 February 2003, the Indian-American NASA astronaut and six of her crewmates perished over Texas as Space Shuttle Columbia STS-107 was re-entering Earth's atmosphere.
Their mission was almost complete, and we lost them so close to home. The men and women of the Columbia had journeyed more than 6 million miles and were minutes away from arrival and reunion.George W Bush, Former US President
In 1988, Kalpana joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Ames Research Centre to work in the area of powered lift computational fluid dynamics.
She first travelled to space on 19 November 1997, as part of the six-astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. On 16 January 2003, Chawla finally returned to space aboard Space Shuttle Columbia on the ill-fated STS-107 mission.
She graduated from Tagore School, Karnal in 1976 and received a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College in 1982.
She moved to the United States in 1982 where she obtained the Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984.
Determined to become an astronaut even in the face of the Challenger disaster, Chawla went on to earn a second Masters in 1986 and a PhD in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
None of our astronauts travelled a longer path to space than Kalpana Chawla. She left India as a student, but she would see the nation of her birth, all of it, from hundreds of miles above. When the sad news reached her home town, an administrator at her high school recalled, “She always said she wanted to reach the stars. She went there, and beyond.” Kalpana’s native country mourns her today, and so does her adopted land.George W Bush during the Memorial Service for Columbia Astronauts