Kalpana Chawla – The Girl Who Dared to Dream!

A family in Karnal (Haryana) celebrated the arrival of their baby girl on 17 March 1962. This little girl was none other than Kalpana Chawla, who went on to make millions of people proud years later. Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian-born woman in space and her story continues to inspire men and women from all over the world years after her unfortunate demise.

Kalpana Chawla broke barriers and became a role model to not only young girls but also to anyone who aspired to be an astronaut. Chawla is a great model for any child who wants to chase their dream irrelevant of how impossible it might seem. We bring to you the story of the little girl who went from being fascinated by flying to becoming the first woman of Indian origin to go to space!

In this article, we bring you the Kalpana Chawla story.

The girl with an inquisitive mind!

“You are just your intelligence.”Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla - The Girl Who Dared to Dream
Kalpana Chawla

Even as a little girl Kalpana Chawla was different from her friends. While her peers were drawing trees, houses, and mountains, Chawla was busy sketching aeroplanes. Her teachers remember her as an inquisitive and smart girl. Once, she asked her teacher why people would be divided into classes and sects when they all look alike when viewed from the sky.

Unlike most girls her age, Chawla was not too keen when it came to fashion or make-up. She preferred building aeroplane models to playing with dolls or makeup. Chawla’s home was situated close to the Karnal aviation club and the little girl spent hours on her terrace watching airplanes fly over their house. 

Years later in an interview, Chawla explained how she and her brother would try to follow the airplanes on their bicycles just to see where they were headed. Her first and closest link to aerospace engineering was when she got a chance to ride in the Pushpak and a glider after pestering her father about it. Her interest in space and flying did not waver as she got older.

Kalpana Chawla Story – The Woman Who Broke Social Barriers!

The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it.”Kalpana Chawla

Chawla always spoke her mind and stood strongly by what she believed in. Once in college, a teacher used female Indian astronauts as an example for a null set as there were no Indian women astronauts. Chawla challenged her saying that this might cease to be true one day. Little did anyone in that class know that she would be the one to change that one day.

Even though Chawla’s mother was supportive of her dreams, her father did not believe that aeronautical engineering was a suitable career path for a woman. But this did not deter Chawla from pursuing aeronautical engineering at Punjab Engineering College.

She had to stay in a small room over a garage as there was no hostel for girls. A studious student, she also was the student editor of her college magazine. Her paper on ‘Time Lapse in Space’ in the first year of her annual college conference astounded teachers and students alike.

Chawla became the first female aeronautical engineer to pass out from her college in the year 1982 and this set the precedence for many Indian women to chase after their dreams. Her shining academic record coupled with her involvement in the AEC’s aero society guaranteed her a place at the University of Texas in the USA for a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering. Chawla had a hard time trying to convince her parents to let her pursue her master’s in another country but her determination and resilience ensured they gave in in the end and let her embark on her history-making journey.

A Journey That Made us Proud and Broke Our Hearts!

You must enjoy the journey because whether or not you get there, you must have fun on the way.” – Kalpana Chawla

After completing her Master’s and Doctorate in Aerospace Engineering, Chawla went on to work in NASA’s Ames Research Centre. She was picked as an astronaut candidate by NASA in the year 1994. Chawla successfully completed her first space mission in the year 1997 along with five other astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. 

Chawla was selected for her second space mission in the year 2001 which was later delayed due to technical problems. Chawla finally boarded the Space Shuttle Columbia as a part of a seven-crew member team in the year 2003. The mission lasted 16 days during which the crew conducted over 80 experiments in space.

Unfortunately, the journey did not have a happy ending. Tragedy awaited the crew and the millions of people who were waiting for the shuttle’s return. On its re-entry into earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated killing all the seven crew members on board. Indians along with millions from all around the world mourned the loss of these seven brilliant and courageous lives.

To this day, the mention of Kalpana Chawla stirs something bittersweet in all of us. Chawla paved the path for many Indian girls to defy social barriers and follow their dreams. Long after her unfortunate demise, Chawla continues to inspire and motivate us with her unforgettable legacy and that is where her magic resides.


How many days did Kalpana Chawla live in space?

For her second mission into space, Kalpana Chawla was chosen in 2000 by NASA. She was re-assigned as a mission specialist for the STS-107 mission. The mission was postponed many times before ultimately being launched in 2003. More than 80 tests were conducted by the crew over a 16-day mission.

How many times did Kalpana go to space?

Part of two space missions in her astronaut career, she flew in the STS-87 (1997) and STS-107 (2003), logging 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space.

What did Kalpana Chawla do in space?

Her assignments included work on the development of Robotic Situational Awareness Displays and testing space shuttle control software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory. In November 1996, Kalpana Chawla was assigned as a mission specialist and prime robotic arm operator on STS-87.


Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-born American astronaut and mechanical engineer who was the first woman of Indian origin to go to space. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. Her second flight was on STS-107, the final flight of Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003 which was a disaster.

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