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INSPIRATION UNLIMITED
KALPANA CHAWLA, UP AND CLOSE
Home
INTRODUCTION
KALPANA'S HISTORY
DARE TO DREAM
MEMORIES TO CHERISH
PICTURES - PAGE 1
PICTURES - PAGE 2
PICTURES - PAGE 3
PICTURES - PAGE 4
KALPANA'S E-MAIL
KALPANA MAKES A DIFFERENCE
SUPERCOMPUTER AFTER KALPANA
KALPANA REMEMBERED
LIFETIME EXPERIENCE
INTERVIEW WITH KC'S BROTHER
PASSIONATE SCIENTIST
KALPANA CHAWLA, UP AND CLOSE
INVESTIGATION REPORTING PAGE
CONTACT

Kalpana Chawla
 
Position: Flight engineer.
Personal data: Born in Karnal, India.
Interests: Flying aerobatics, hiking, backpacking, reading.
Education: Bachelor's in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, India. Master's in aerospace engineering from University of Texas. Doctorate in same from University of Colorado.
Work experience: Licensed commercial pilot and flight instructor. Has done computational and aerodynamics research. Prime robotic arm operator on STS-87 in 1997.
 
As a youngster in her native Karnal, India, Columbia flight engineer Kalpana Chawla, would join her brother for long bicycle rides that often took them close to a local flying club.
 
She recalled a fascination with the light planes as they took off and landed and credited the experience with eventually leading her into the field of aerospace engineering, her stepping stone to the astronaut corps.
 
Chawla, who earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas, was making her second trip into space.
"I'm looking forward to the flight, of course. After you go to space once, you sort of get addicted, you want to have the same experience," she explained to reporters at a Jan. 3 pre-flight news conference. "That's precisely what I feel, especially the part the part about looking at the Earth, looking at the stars. Doing it again is like having a good dream once again."
 
Those bicycle rides with her brother eventually convinced Chawla's father to secure a ride in a plane and glider for his daughter. She combined the experience with an interest in a pioneering Indian aviator. By the time, she was in high school, Chawla was determined to become an aerospace engineer.
 
After earning a bachelor's degree in the field at the Punjab Engineering College, Chawla pursued graduate work in aerospace first at the University of Texas then at the University of Colorado, where she earned a doctorate in 1988.
 
Chawla began her professional career at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffit Field, Calif., where she characterized the air flows around high performance aircraft. Trained as an aerobatic pilot, Chawla was selected by NASA for astronaut training in 1994. Three years later, Chawla participated in her first spaceflight, a lengthy shuttle research mission. Chawla was married to Jean-Pierre Harrison.
 

Chawla's final gift: Lost research recovered almost 1 year after crash
 
A phone call from a colleague woke up Mark Lankton in his Boulder bedroom one year ago.
 
Sleeping in on that Saturday morning, the program manager for the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics had gone to bed thinking his experiment aboard Columbia was all buttoned up. 
    
"Turn on the news," the caller said.
 
Lankton did, and watched in shock and sadness.
 
All seven crew perished that morning in the skies above Texas en route to a landing at Kennedy Space Center, in Florida. With them were 80 experiments, including Lankton's.
 
For 10 years and over the course of three shuttle flights, he and others had worked to find how soils react under pressure at near-zero gravity.
Recently, he had made a new friend.
 
Kalpana Chawla, who was born in Karnal, India, received her doctor of philosophy degree in aerospace engineering at CU in 1988. NASA recruited the bright, motivated scientist to become an astronaut in 1994. On her first mission, aboard the Columbia from Nov. 19 to Dec. 5, 1997, she operated the shuttle's robot arm.
 
Chawla, known as "K.C." to her friends, visited CU a couple of times with payload commander Mike Anderson in the year prior to her second and final trip into space. The two spent time learning how to turn the valves and plug in the wires necessary to conduct the $10 million experiment in space.
"It was a joy to work with K.C. and with Mike," Lankton said. "They went out of their way during the mission to get us everything we wanted and more."
With Chawla's extra effort, the experiment had been repeated 10 times within the mission's first dozen days once more than anticipated.
 
Now, its most crucial results were lost. For the rest of the day, the accident played over and over on television, burning a cautionary image into the mind of anyone who ever wondered what it was like to see the Earth and gaze at the distant marvels of the universe through a space shuttle's window. Over the next month, investigators scoured America's countryside from Texas to Nevada, searching among the fallen shuttle parts for evidence of what went wrong. In the first week, investigators found a container filled with hundreds of worms and dead moss cells from one experiment aboard the Columbia. Then, it was Lankton's turn for a hopeful phone call. Out on the east Texas plains, near a little town called Maydelle, investigators found two pink computer disks. The thin, 3-inch by 2-inch "flash memory cards" were intact and contained data collected from CU's experiments. Like college students trying to revive a paper lost on a crashed computer, they anxiously sent the disk to data recovery experts and crossed their fingers. Three weeks ago, after nearly a year of analysis, experts finally reconstructed the data on the two memory disks. Lankton and his LASP team finally had the key results from an experiment that Chawla performed for them two weeks before her death. "Son of a gun if we didn't have the crucial data from that first experiment," Lankton said. "It was a very moving moment because this had come back from the grave."  Thanks to Chawla's belated message, Lankton's team thinks now more than ever that their research may have a profound impact on how buildings are built near areas prone to earthquakes.

Columbia remembered one year later.
 
Shuttle crash commemorated across United States.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. One year after Columbia broke apart and fell in flaming streaks from the Texas sky, NASA workers who launched the shuttle and its seven astronauts and then gathered up the remains stood united in sorrow Sunday at the precise moment of destruction. The first anniversary of the catastrophe was a time for everyone  rocket engineers, debris searchers, school children, space enthusiasts, even football fans to pause and remember.
 
"One year ago, at this very hour, the unthinkable occurred," Kennedy Space Center's director, Jim Kennedy, told the crowd of a few hundred who gathered on a gray, drizzly morning at NASA's astronauts memorial.
 
Kennedy quietly recited the names of the Columbia astronauts, carved into the black granite monument behind him: Commander Rick Husband, co-pilot William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon. "They were our friends. They are our heroes. Their loss will not be in vain. We will come back bigger, better and stronger than ever before, and I can assure you that crew and their beloved families will never, ever be forgotten," Kennedy said.
 
The ceremony began at 9 a.m. EST, the instant NASA lost communication with Columbia over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003. It ended at 9:16 a.m., the time the spacecraft should have landed on the Kennedy Space Center runway. By then, Columbia had shattered into tens of thousands of pieces that crashed down on Texas and Louisiana. A piece of fuel-tank foam insulation had torn a hole in Columbia's left wing during the mid-January liftoff and allowed hot atmospheric gases to enter during atmospheric re-entry.
 
Knowing the astronauts well made the anniversary all the more painful for Arthur Willett, a shuttle recovery worker who spent three weeks in Texas picking up the pieces. "Even though working in this program day to day, you realize those things can happen until they do, it's hard to take that burden on," he said, gripping a rose.
 
Tributes also were held in many of the East Texas towns where the wreckage fell. The husbands of the two women who died aboard Columbia attended a memorial in Hemphill, in a packed Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. The memorial ended more than an hour later with a 21-gun salute.
 
Jean-Pierre Harrison said he wanted to thank the people who recovered the remains of his wife, Kalpana Chawla. "You are among the best America has to offer," he said.
 
Dr. Jon Clark, a NASA neurologist who was married to astronaut Laurel Clark, said going to East Texas was "like coming home." "This is where the crew came home and this is where I wanted to be," Clark told the grieving crowd.
 
In Houston, where the Columbia astronauts lived and Mission Control is located, the biggest salute of all was saved for last the Super Bowl. The Columbia astronauts' families were invited to the football game, along with NASA's top officials.
 
The NFL, which had scheduled the Super Bowl in Houston long before the Columbia disaster, paid an upbeat pregame tribute to the astronauts.
 
Aerosmith and Josh Groban offered musical tributes, and the seven astronauts scheduled to fly the next mission as early as September aboard shuttle Atlantis accompanied the color guard onto the field.
 
Eileen Collins, commander of the next shuttle mission, said she thought about the Columbia crew the whole time. "I think they were with us today, and I think they're glad NASA didn't say no" to the high-profile salute, she said.
The heartfelt remembrances stretched around the planet.
 
In northern Israel near the Sea of Galilee, Ramon's widow, four children and 80-year-old father gathered with friends and relatives at his grave and placed white cyclamen flowers and carnations on his tombstone.
 
Youngsters in Karnal, India, Chawla's hometown, recited prayers at the high school where she studied three decades earlier. The anguish also reached beyond Earth. From the international space station, astronaut Michael Foale said not a day goes by that he doesn't think about his colleagues who died.