New Delhi: Kalpana Chawla’s name will remain forever etched in the planets and stars -- she wanted to explore.

Kalpana Chawla's journey from a middle-class family to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an amazing story. She represented India in the world, an example that showed how good and efficient Indians are.

Remembering Kalpana Chawala

Early days

The famous Indian astronaut was born in Karnal on July 1st, 1961. Daughter of Banarasi Lal Chawla and Sanyogita Chawla, Kalpana acquired her father’s attitude of never giving up and not knowing failure. Banarasi Lal Chawla was forced to flee his home (now in Pakistan) during the partition in 1947. Kalpana used to call her father by his name -- Banarsi Lal or bhaaji. Kalpana was a diligent student. She completed her graduation from Tagore Public School, Karnal in 1976. Kalpana always dreamt big and believed in the principles of dharma and karma. She remained faithful to her name Kalpana i.e. Imagination. Once, for a geography project, she built a model of the universe with old newspapers, complete with stars and the moon.

Journey to NASA

After getting her Bachelor of Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh in 1982, she moved to United States of America and obtained a MS degree in Aerospace Engineering from University of Texas in 1984. She earned a second MS Degree in 1986 and a PhD in aerospace engineering in 1988 from University of Colorado, Boulder.

She was known to be simple and down-to-earth to her friends and family. In 1984 Kalpana married Jean-Pierre Harrison, a freelance flight instructor. She started working with NASA Ames Research Center. In 1994, she was selected by NASA, four years after she became a US citizen. It was in 1997, KC, as she was known among her friends and colleague, first flew on the Columbia spacecraft (STS-87) as a mission specialist and primary robot arm operator. During her first space flight, she asked the school to send a T-shirt to carry with her as a souvenir.

After her first trip she had said -- "It's amazing, addictive. The first view of the earth is magical. It is a very overpowering realisation that the Earth is so small. It affected me. I could not get over the notion that in such a small planet, with such a small ribbon of life, so much goes on."

In January 2003, Kalpana again flew into space. This time she was a part of Columbia STS-107 mission. At that time she had said -- "The coolest thing for me is the experience of floating, not feeling my weight."

Wish came true

Once she had told her family that she wanted to die in space and her wish came true. On February 1, 2003, India lost one of its finest gems. Kalpana died in the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy. Kalpana Chawla along with six other astronauts died when the Columbia space shuttle crashed over Texas during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. She was a mission specialist on Columbia STS-107.

Hours before the crash she said from space - "Doing it again is like living a dream -- a good dream -- once again."

Inspiring millions

Today, the nation remembers her as an inspiration to many of us. She is a perfect example to mark the excellence of women in India.

Despite being a scientist, Kalpana had a poetic soul and a fondness for Indian classical music and songs of Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh. She loved to listen to flautist Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia.

Toward the Goal

Dive deep down
An aim awaits
Pearls peep
For your hands to reach
Just yours
For years, decades and ages
A door lies locked
A pearl in the shell
A secret in the brain
Open it
Break it
Reveal it

(This poem was written on October 27, 1980 by Kalpana Chawla which she titled Toward the Goal)

Jagran Post pays tribute to Kalpana Chawala who was simply out of this world.

(Abhinav Ranjan/JPN)

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