Chawla lived dream of many.
Astronaut 'shattered many stereotypes,' friend recalls
at CU memorial Chawla was remembered by friends
who knew her during her time as CU student. Chawla was remembered as a thoughtful adventurer who "lived her life to the fullest."
As a senior astrophysics student at the University
of Colorado, Helene LaValley shared the dream that astronaut and CU alumna Kalpana Chawla was living.
So LaValley was devastated when she learned Saturday
that Chawla and her six crew mates aboard the space shuttle Columbia had perished over Texas. "I have a lot of friends who work for NASA. My dream is to work for NASA. It really rocked me," LaValley
said after attending a campus memorial for Chawla on Wednesday.
LaValley said it helped to learn that there were others
among the 125 people at the service who felt the same way.
Chawla's friends and colleagues remembered her as
a caring, thoughtful person who wasn't afraid to blaze new trails or try a new adventure.
Miriam Maslanik, founder and former director
of Women in Engineering, was a fellow doctoral student when she first met Chawla on the Boulder campus in the late 1980s.
"K.C. was my friend," Maslanik recalled. "She shattered many stereotypes for women all over." She remembered her friend's
sense of humor. Back then, the two women were in an aerobics class together. Maslanik kidded her friend about the flimsy sneakers she wore to class. Chawla came to the next class with a
pair of bright red Reeboks. Maslanik talked about her regret at having missed a chance to see Chawla's shuttle take off in
1997 and again last month on the ill-fated flight."I thought there would be another time," Maslanik said. A few years ago
when Chawla came back to visit Boulder, the two friends talked a little about the risks of space travel. "She had a job to do. She lived her life to the fullest," Maslanik said. "She and her fellow astronauts died
living their dream. I'm proud to say she was my friend."
A smaller memorial in Denver reminded the two
dozen in attendance that "we are dust and we are glory . . . made of the same stuff as the stars." "That is not just a statement of faith, it is a statement of fact," said the Rev. Peter Eaton of St. John's
Cathedral, in the homily of an interfaith service Wednesday afternoon. "Nothing of any importance at all, not new knowledge,
not love, not peace, not justice, not even life itself, is possible without risk," Eaton said. "Sometimes that risk ends in
new possibilities and success; sometimes it ends in failure. We can never know beforehand."
Lt. Gov. Jane Norton commented on the state's close
ties to the national space enterprise - 100,000 aerospace workers and 15 astronauts with college degrees from CU, two of them
who perished in flight.
"They embraced the best of the American dream - the
dream of exploration and discovery," Norton said.
Phillip Hernandez of the mayor's office of community
relations, read from a speech President Kennedy gave in 1963: "The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in
it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time."
BOULDER - Kalpana Chawla was a small woman with big
dreams, which led her improbably from a village in India to the University of Colorado and ultimately into space. The 41-year-old
astronaut who died Saturday aboard space shuttle Columbia was remembered by colleagues and admirers around the world and in
Boulder as someone who derived great joy in reaching for the heavens and inspiring others to follow. "I had just written an
e-mail to her on Thursday saying how proud we all were of her," said Robert Culp, a CU aerospace engineering professor and
secondary adviser on Chawla's doctoral dissertation. Chawla grew up in Karnal, a village in northern India, and became a U.S.
citizen in 1980. She was celebrated in her home country as a national hero after her first shuttle flight in 1997. "She was
a role model for all Indian citizens, and especially Indian women, for having come so far from our country and done so much,"
said Indrani Vedula, a 24- year-old Indian graduate student at CU. "We lost one of our jewels." A mission specialist with
technical expertise in fluid dynamics and aerospace engineering, Chawla maintained her little-girl wonder of the world, taking
charge of the simple biology experiments placed on the space shuttle by high-school students from around the country. Aboard
the shuttle, she delighted in pointing out India to crew members as they repeatedly passed by in orbit, saying: "I lived there."
Culp recalled watching a live news conference on Thursday and observing that Chawla seemed to bubble with joy. "She kept saying
that being in space was the most exciting thing she could imagine," Culp said. Born into a wealthy family that owned a rubber-manufacturing
plant, Chawla was awarded her doctorate in aerospace engineering from CU in 1988 after completing her undergraduate work at
Punjab Engineering College and earning a master's degree from the University of Texas. During her three years at CU, she frequently
took time away from her studies to continue her passion for aerobatic flying in small planes above Boulder. Although she immediately
went to work for NASA's Ames Research Center after graduation, she had few delusions of becoming an astronaut. From the time
she was 12, she knew she wanted to be an aerospace engineer, she said in a NASA preflight interview. "For me, it's really
farfetched to have thought about it and made it," Chawla said in a 1998 interview with India Today. "It's almost like having
won a lottery or something." When she was selected for training in 1994, she immediately uprooted her husband, Jean-Pierre
Harrison, a flight instructor, and they moved to Houston. She became the 15th CU alum to go into space and kept in close contact
with Culp and her primary adviser, retired aerospace professor Chuen-Yen "C.Y." Chow, always taking them out to lunch and visiting
with students on periodic trips to Boulder. "She came here after her first flight, and it was very exciting for the aerospace
students to hear her stories," Chow said. Chawla also was the second former CU student to die on a NASA mission, joining Ellison
S. Onizuka, who perished aboard space shuttle Challenger in 1986. At a little over 5 feet tall, Chawla was too small to fit
into the space suits needed for the transition from the shuttle to the space station, so she was relegated to the shuttle's
scientific missions. On the 16-day mission aboard Columbia in 1997, Chawla also found herself uncomfortably in the spotlight
when she tried to retrieve a wayward satellite with the space shuttle's robot arm but missed and sent it spiraling out of
control. Other astronauts had to perform a space walk to retrieve the satellite, although a NASA investigation later absolved
Chawla and indicated the episode resulted from a series of small mistakes. Known around NASA as "KC" and in India by her childhood
nickname, "Monto," Chawla was described as an extrovert with a quick smile. "She just seemed like a real super person," said
Dave Kalahar, the undergraduate academic adviser for the CU aerospace department who stays in contact with the school's astronauts.
"She always made time for the students when she was on campus and especially made time to talk to the women in the engineering
program." Vedula and her roommate, Leena Tawate from Bombay, were among those inspired by Chawla and delighted to be going
to the same engineering school. "She had this big place in our lives. She represented all of India," said Tawate, who is seeking
a master's degree in telecommunications. Chawla's parents, two sisters and sister-in-law had traveled to the United States
to watch her flight, said a family friend, Arun Sharma, outside the home of her brother, Sanjay, in New Delhi. The residents
of her hometown of Karnal had planned a celebration but instead were in shock and mourning Saturday night after it became
clear that Chawla and her six crewmates were dead. Some 300 children at the Tagore Bal Niketan school that Chawla attended
had gathered for an evening of song and dance to celebrate the expected landing of Columbia, principal Rajan Lamba said. In
the months leading up to the flight, Chawla had asked Culp, Chow and Kalahar to design a flag for her to carry on the mission
to bring back to CU. The banner they designed bore her photo and the logos of the departments and companies supporting the
research she was conducting. I was Ellison Onizuka's adviser when Challenger blew up," Culp said. "It was the same kind
I did not expect Kalpana Chawla to become astronaut:
WASHINGTON: Nearly everyone who walks into Don
Seath's aerodynamics class at the University of Texas has toyed with the idea of becoming an astronaut, but he says Kalpana
Chawla seemed least likely to achieve this ambition.
Seath, who has taught at the Arlington-based university since
1965, would be hard pressed to think of a student who on first meeting seemed less likely to go into space than Chawla.
I heard she had been accepted into the programme to become an astronaut I was thrilled but also surprised," the New York Times
quoted Seath as saying.
"She just did not seem to fit the type."
It was not that she lacked brilliance. "She
was a very good student, quite excellent. She was in my aerodynamics class and she performed exceedingly well," Seath said.
What she did not have was the brash attitude most aspiring astronauts displayed. "She was quiet and modest," he recalled.
But Chawla, 41, never lacked determination, the daily quoted those who knew her as saying.
R.S. Bhatia, head
of the Indian Space Research Organisation's Washington office, was of the view that Chawla had become a symbol of India's
greatness even though she was no longer an Indian citizen.
Chawla and six other astronauts died Saturday when the
U.S. space shuttle Columbia disintegrated minutes before it was to return to earth.
From her childhood in Karnal,
a small town in the India's Haryana state, Chawla had nursed a lifelong dream to go into space.
"I was interested
in aerospace and flying, and the U.S. is really the best place in the world for flying," she had told the university magazine
in 1998, shortly after her first space shuttle mission.
Chawla passed out of Karnal's Tagore Bal Niketan school in
1976 before taking a degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College.
She then came to the U.S.
for a master's degree in aerospace engineering from University of Texas in 1984, followed by a doctorate degree in aerospace
engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988.
She also married Jean-Pierre Harrison, a pilot.
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) selected her and 19 others from a group of 4,000 applicants for its
In November 1997, Chawla became the first person of Indian origin to fly in an American space
shuttle. She was assigned to the shuttle Columbia as a mission specialist and prime robotic arm operator.
flight was not without mishaps. As robotic arm operator, she was unable to retrieve the 3,000-pound Spartan satellite that
spun away after the shuttle released it. Astronauts had to go out on a space walk three days later to retrieve it.
mistake shook her confidence, and she feared her space career was over. But her concern was misplaced.
"Some of the
senior astronauts shook my hand and said, 'K.C., you did a great job. Don't let anyone tell you different,'" Chawla told the
Washington - Kalpana
Chawla lived for the very event she
died in. In pre-flight interviews
with the media, she had
described the ascent, re-entry, and landing of the
spacecraft as the most exciting and enjoyable
the space odyssey.
That the moment of adrenalin rush also held the greatest
danger did not seem to
faze her at all. The Atlanta
Journal and Constitution newspaper reported on Sunday
that she once told her only US-based
Chawla that if she had to die, she hoped it would
be in a
On Saturday, Girish, who lives outside Atlanta, Georgia,
flew to Houston to join the rest of the
as realization sank in that the girl they all called
'Montu' would now exist only in their memories.
family remained incommunicado and is expected to attend a
prayer meeting organised by the local Indian community
Kalpana Chawlas businessman father Banarsi Das, home-
maker mother Sanjogta, and her two sisters had only
come from India to witness the launch of the
Space Shuttle Columbia from Cape Canaveral on January 16.
the launch they had repaired to Houston,
waiting for her to touch down and return home, when they
heard of the disaster.
Meanwhile, in death more than in life, Kalpana Chawla is
finding fame and recognition in the United States. Well-
known in India
as the countrys first female astronaut,
albeit of an emigrant variety, the 41-year old Indian-
American is being featured
extensively in the US media as
it examines the diverse composition of a crew that had
two women, an African American
and an Israeli among them.
Chawlas early years and schooling
in India, her college
education in the US, her rise in Nasa and her comments in
past interviews are all being scrutinized
the remarkable career of a small-town Haryana girl who
made the elite grade of American astronauts. "Golden
Gave youth in India a chance to dream," the Washington
Post headlined a story on her from India.
media initially counted her among six Americans
while focusing on the Israeli as the one foreigner among
the crew. It
was only later than they cottoned on to the
Indian-American female who was a relatively recent
immigrant to the United
States, having moved here only in
saw herself as a citizen of the world.
Following her debut space flight in 1997, she described
how spinning around the
earth in just 90 minutes gave her
a sense of belonging to the whole planet and not just any
one country or community.
But she never made any attempt to underplay her Indian
roots. The last time she associated herself publicly with
Indian event was when she attended a dinner hosted by
vice-president Al Gore for Prime Minister Vajpayee and
at the head table, recalled T PSreenivasan,
who was Indias Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington
when she went on her
Sreenivasan, who witnessed that event in Cape Canaveral
and spoke with her, said she acknowledged
science education in India that got her interested in
In more recent interviews ahead of her
Chawla also acknowledged being inspired by the flying
of JRD Tata. She remained in touch with her school,
community and family in Karnal.
On her very first flight, she
carried souvenirs from her
high school (Tagore High School in Karnal) and the Punjab
Engineering College. This time
she was carrying banners
and pins of the Flying Club and Nehru Planetarium.
Kalpanas American teachers too paid rich tributes to
her, with one professor at University of Texas who taught
aerodynamics describing her as a quiet and modest
student who showed great determination "without the brash
most aspiring astronauts displayed."
The scrutiny of Chawlas
career was not without a bit of
controversy. Some Indian circles chafed at reports that
suggested she was responsible
for a minor mishap in the
1997 flight that sent a science satellite tumbling out of
control. Other astronauts had to
go on a spacewalk to
But Nasa later absolved her and acknowledged that the
instructions to the crew
may not have been clear. Chawla
too said she had stopped thinking
about it. "After I had
basically sorted that out, I figured its time to really
look at the future and not at the past,"
she said in one