For the world of space and space enthusiasts alike, February 1 holds an important place. For this is the day that many woke up to one of the most horrific reports 15 years ago. On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members, which included Indian-born astronaut Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian woman in space.
Columbia exploded a mere sixteen minutes before landing on Earth. The spacecraft was on its 28th mission, and the sudden accident was caused by a damaged aluminium heat-insulating tile on the left wing of the shuttle.
Columbia was the first space-rated Space Shuttle in NASA’s orbiter fleet. Over 22 years of service, it completed 27 missions before disintegrating during re-entry near the end of its 28th mission.
Kalpana Chawla was known as India’s pride. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator.
Born on March 17, in Karnal, Haryana, she began working at the NASA Ames Research Center in 1988, where she did Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research on Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing concepts.
Kalpana joined Overset Methods, Inc. as Vice President and Research Scientist specialising in the simulation of moving multiple body problems before being a part of the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1995.
She was 40-years-old at the time of her death. Her remains were identified along with the rest of the crew members and were cremated and scattered at National Park in Utah in accordance with her wishes.
On her 15th death anniversary, the nation proudly remembers her achievements that were instrumental in making India a renowned name in the space world.