On February 2003, Kalpana Chawla died. She was an American astronaut, engineer, and the first woman of Indian descent to go to space. She not only achieved her dreams but also emerged as an inspiration for many. Chawla died on February 1, 2003, in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, along with the other six crew members, when the Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107.
She was born on July 1, 1961, to Banrasi Lal and Sanjyoti. As a child, Kalpana always wanted to fly high, she liked to draw pictures of aeroplanes. She was married to Jean‐Pierre Harrison a flying instructor. She moved to the United States in 1982 after doing her engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Chandigarh’s Punjab Engineering College and obtained a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984.
In 1989, Kalpana began working at NASA Ames Research Center. Her first space mission began on November 19, 1997. Her second and last began on January 16, 2003.
Lesser known yet surprising things:
According to media reports, as soon as the Columbia Space Shuttle took off, it was known that it would not land safely on the ground, it was already known by the NASA that the seven astronauts would die. Even then the astronauts were not informed about it. This is surprising, but it is true. This was revealed by the program manager of Mission Columbia.
Why NASA did that?
A key lesson from the tragedy, says Wayne Hale, a flight director who later ran the shuttle program for NASA.
That lesson: Never give up. No matter how hopeless.
And to illustrate the lesson, Hale in his blog tells for the first time the story of his late boss who seemingly suggested doing just that. The boss, mission operations chief Jon Harpold, asked the now-retired Hale a what-if question after a meeting that determined—wrongly—that Columbia was safe to land despite some damage after takeoff.
“You know there is nothing we can do about damage to the (thermal protection system)” Hale quotes Harpold a decade later. “If it has been damaged, it’s probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done until the air ran out.”
It means NASA already knew it that the space shuttle will never return to Earth and all the crew members will die but they didn’t want the crew members to know it because it will shatter their enthusiasm and as a result, they will start counting their last minutes. As the death was to come anyway, NASA wanted them to unaware of it and die unexpectedly.