Home / News / World /  20 years since Kalpana Chawla didn’t return home from space

February 1 marks 20 years of NASA’s space shuttle Columbia tragedy that took the life of astronaut Kalpana Chawla.

At the Kennedy Space Center, more than a hundred people earlier gathered in remembrance of not just the seven members of the Columbia crew but also the other 18 astronauts who died in the line of duty. More than half of the names inscribed on the black granite of the Space Mirror Memorial are the result of NASA's two shuttle accidents; the other names are the result of plane crashes.

When the Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew perished during entry on February 1, 2003, it was 16 minutes before the scheduled landing. Chawla lost her life over the southern United States. After a piece of fuel tank foam broke off and pierced the left wing on takeoff 16 days earlier, Columbia was destroyed during reentry.

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Despite others' worries, NASA authorities downplayed the impact during the trip. On January 28, 1986, the shuttle Challenger crashed on takeoff due to a similar cultural error, killing all seven people inside, including school teacher Christa McAuliffe. Kalpana She was survived by her husband.

Graduated from Tagore School, Karnal, India, in 1976, she received her Bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, 1982. Her Master of science degree in aerospace engineering was from University of Texas and the Doctorate of philosophy in aerospace engineering from University of Colorado.

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Kalpana Chawla, who was chosen by NASA in December 1994, reported at the Johnson Space Center in March 1995 as a candidate for the 15th Group of Astronauts. She was given the position of crew representative to work on technical issues for the Astronaut Office's EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches after completing a year of training and evaluation.

She was tasked with developing robotic situational awareness displays and performing software testing in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory for the space shuttle.

On STS-87, Kalpana Chawla was assigned as the mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator in November 1996. She began serving as the lead for the Astronaut Office's Crew Systems and Habitability section after being appointed as a crew representative for shuttle and station flight crew equipment in January 1998. Her time in space totaled 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes while she was a pilot on STS-87 (1997) and STS-107 (2003).

Sounak Mukhopadhyay
Sounak Mukhopadhyay, who also goes by the name Sounak Mukherjee, has been producing digital news since 2012. He's worked for the International Business Times, The Inquisitr, and Moneycontrol in the past. He's also contributed to Free Press Journal and TheRichest with feature articles. He covers news for a wide range of subjects including business, finance, economy, politics and social media. Before working with digital news publications, he worked as a freelance content writer.
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