It was on January 16, 2003, when Indian American astronaut Kalpana Chawla took her second and last flight to the space in Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-107, before it disintegrated over Texas during its re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. It's been 17 years since the famous NASA astronaut passed away, and still, she continues to inspire many young minds, especially girls.
The Columbia Space Shuttle, with 7 astronauts on board including Kalpana Chawla - the first Indian women to go to space, took its flight from Kennedy space center in Florida on January 16, 2003. The space mission during its 15 days, 22 hours, 20 minutes, 32 seconds in orbit conducted a multitude of international scientific experiments.
Along with Chawla, Commander Rick D Husband, Pilot William C McCool, David M Brown, Michael P Anderson, Laurel B Clark, and Ilan Ramon were on board. During the launch of the Columbia spacecraft, a piece of foam broke off during launch, damaging the thermal protection system on the leading edge of the orbiter's left-wing.
After the space expedition, the Columbia spacecraft was scheduled to land on the earth's surface on February 1 after a 16-day mission. During the re-entry the damaged wing slowly overheated and came apart, eventually leading to loss of control and disintegration of the vehicle. The damage allowed hot atmospheric gases to penetrate the heat shield and destroy the internal wing structure, which caused the spacecraft to become unstable and break apart.
All seven crew members who died during the spacecraft tried to re-enter the earth's atmosphere.
Right after the disaster, NASA had set up the Columbia Accident Investigation Board to determine the cause of the disintegration.
India lost its daughter and one of its brilliant minds in NASA's space mission. Space scientist Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, Haryana, and immigrated to the US in 1982 after finishing her degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College. She obtained a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984.
Chawla went on to earn a second Masters in 1986 and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado Boulder. She became the first Indian woman to fly in space after her first space mission began on November 19, 1997. She was among the six astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87.
She had spent 336 hours in space during the research mission.