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Interstellar: Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator

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The first women of Indian origin in space, Kalpana Chawla, would have been 55 today. A role model for many young women in India and around the world, Kalpana will always be remembered for her incredible journey. Kalpana first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. Chawla was one of the seven astronauts who lost their lives in the Space Shuttle disaster February 1, 2003.

If destiny would have been kind, Kalpana would have celebrated her 55th birth anniversary today.

As we remember Kalpana and her contributions to the world, here are some facts you should know about the legend:

- Kalpana was originally named Monto.
She would have done great even if she had used her name of Monto, its only right that she chose 'Kalpana' as a name for herself, which meant imagination. She kept using Monto as her nickname.

- Chawla completed her early education in Punjab.

After finishing her school from Karnal, Chawla moved to Chandigarh to pursue a course in Aeronautical engineering at Punjab Engineering College.

- Chawla was also a certified flight instructor.
She was certified with a commercial pilot license for the seaplanes, multi-engine aircraft and glider. She was also a Certificated Flight Instructor for glider and airplanes.

- She proved that extracurricular activities make us awesome.

Though Kalpana was not a constant topper, she was always among the top five students in her class in academics. But she liked poetry, dancing, cycling and running and was invariably first in all the races.

- Kalpana held many position in NASA before becoming an astronaut.
After completing engineering in India, she moved to US in 1982. There she studied aerospace engineering and joined NASA later. She served in various roles including as the Vice President of Overset Methods, Inc. at NASA Research Centre.

- She became a US citizen and completed her PhD before trying to reach space.
Only after becoming a US citizen in 1991, did she apply for and became a member of NASA Astronaut Corps. Six years later, she took her first flight into space.

- In 1997, she became the first Indian born woman and the second Indian person to fly in space.

She first travelled to space on 19th November 1997, as part of the six astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight. On 16th January Chawla finally returned to space aboard Space Shuttle Columbia on the ill-fated STS mission.

- Kalpana got married to Jean Pierre Harrison.
Kalpana married Jean in 1983. Jean was a flying instructor and aviation author. Jean remarried and has a young son. Jean runs a publishing company in California.

- After her unfortunate demise, many honors were bestowed upon her.

She has an asteroid and satellite named after her. A hill on Mars is named after her as Chawla Hills. She has been awarded Congressional Space Medal of Honor, NASA Space flight model and many more honors.

In the time Kalpana Chawla was born, girl's education in India was very far sighted. She could have easily got lost among numerous other Montos, it was only her determination and passion to chase her dreams that made her the 'Kalpana' that we all salute and respect.

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nasa united states space missions science and technology