It was on February 1, 2003, that NASA astronaut Kalpana Chawla, along with other six crew members died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, as the craft disintegrated into pieces during its re-entry to the earth's atmosphere. Now, as a tribute to the first Indian-born woman to enter space, a commercial cargo spacecraft bound for the International Space Station will fly in the name of the late astronaut.
Northrop Grumman Remembers Kalpana Chawla
American global aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman has confirmed this news, and they revealed that its next Cygnus capsule will be named S S Kalpana Chawla, in memory of the mission specialist who lost her life during atmospheric re-entry.
According to the aerospace company, the S S Kalpana Chawla cargo flight will be launched on September 29 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. If everything goes well, this spacecraft will arrive and get attached to the International Space Station (ISS) two days later.
"It is the company's tradition to name each Cygnus after an individual who has played a pivotal role in human spaceflight. Chawla was selected in honor of her prominent place in history as the first woman of Indian descent to go to space," said Northop Grumman, in a statement.
Kalpana Chawla: Daring Lady from India
Kalpana Chawla was born in India on March 17, 1962. After procuring a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College, she moved to the United States in 1982. From the University of Texas, she obtained her Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering.
Later, she became a naturalized US citizen and became an astronaut at NASA. Chawla's first space mission began on November 19, 1997, and she along with the six-astronaut crew flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-8. After spending 15 days in space, Chawla successfully returned to earth.
However, her second space mission turned tragic, and it resulted her end. During the launch, a small piece of foam struck the orbiter's left-wing, which created a hole, and unfortunately, it went unnoticed. Upon return to the earth after 16 days of stay in space, hot plasma entered the wing, tearing it apart, and it made the craft disintegrate during its re-entry.