New Spacecraft Named After the First Female Indian Astronaut Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla

The next International Space Station (ISS) bound spacecraft has been named after Kalpana Chawla, the first woman of Indian descent to enter space.

The S.S. Kalpana Chawla: Northrop Grumman, a U.S.-based global aerospace and defense technology company, made the announcement on its Twitter Wednesday, according to First Post.

  • “Northrop Grumman is proud to name the NG-14 Cygnus spacecraft after former astronaut Kalpana Chawla,” the company said on its website. “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.”
  • The NG-14 mission is set to launch at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on September 29. The S.S. Kalpana Chawla will be equipped on top of the Northrop Grumman Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). It is expected to arrive at the ISS two days later.
  • The Cygnus capsule will deliver 3,629 kilograms (8,000 pounds) of cargo.
  • “While Chawla made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the space programme, her legacy lives on through her fellow astronauts and those she has inspired to follow in her footsteps,” Northrop Grumman said. “Her final research conducted onboard Columbia helped us understand astronaut health and safety during spaceflight.”

Who is Kalpana Chawla: Born in Karnal, Haryana, India on March 17, 1962, Chawla received her Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College in India in 1982, according to her Northrop Grumman bio.

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  • She moved to the U.S. to pursue her graduate education where she received her Master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas followed by a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988.
  • Chawla, who was a certified pilot and held commercial pilot licenses for single and multi-engine airplanes, seaplanes and gliders, began her career in NASA in 1988 as a powered-lift computational fluid dynamics researcher at the Ames Research Center in California.
  • She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1991 and was selected to become a member of the NASA astronaut corps in 1994. Chawla became an astronaut candidate and reported at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in 1995.
  • She eventually became the first Indian-born woman to fly in space for the STS-87 as a mission specialist in November 1996.

A tragic accident: Chawla was once again chosen as a mission specialist in 2000 on STS-107, Space reported.

  • After it launched in 2003, the crew managed to conduct and complete 80 experiments during its 16-day flight.
  • The space shuttle was expected to land at the Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 1, 2003. However, a piece of the shuttle broke off and damaged an important part of the craft that protected it from heat during re-entry.
  • The wing of the space shuttle broke after it passed through the atmosphere, and less than a minute into the disaster, the ship depressurized and killed the six-member crew. The craft was torn apart over Texas and Louisiana before it plunged into the ground.
  • Chawla spent 30 days, 14 hours and 54 minutes in space.
  • “When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system,” she said during her first launch.
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