How Kalpana Chawla’s family gave India, a first woman astronaut?

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“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” Well said by Katharine Hepburn and well followed by Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian woman astronaut who stepped space and became the pride for all of us.

Born on 17th March 1962 in Karnal, Haryana (now in Punjab) to Banarsi Lal Chawla and Sanjyothi Chawla, she sets the best example for all young women of India who bags the blend of small town and big dreams with them. Kalpana Chawla was one of them who fought hard against various rules set by her society to change her dreams into reality.

According to her, “The path from dreams to reality does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get onto it and perseverance to follow it.” 

Her interest popped out in her early life when she was a small school kid. Let’s see how she traveled her journey from a small town full of limitations to the space where infinity is the limit.


Early Life:

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Kalpana was the youngest among her three siblings of the family who hailed in a small town where getting education for a girl was a taboo. Following her eldest sister, Kalpana broke up all the family traditions and followed her dreams. She was taken up by her sister to get admission in the nursery school where she named herself as Kalpana.

Getting admitted to the school was the first stepping stone towards her success.

She not only got an expertise in studies, but also wrote poetry, danced runned and cycled to participate in varied school activities. In spare times, she used to lay down under the sky in night to admire the airplanes and stars. Many times she shared her interest with her brother and told him that she wanted to fly.


Role of school, education and her family:

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Once, Kalpana stated that as a child, she never dreamt she would ever reach the frontiers of space. She felt thankful to her parents who allowed her to attend engineering college where she started stepping towards her goals.

  • School:

    Studious Kalpana always ranked among top 5 in her class. Although she was very much interested in English, Hindi and Geography, but Science was her favorite ones. Reason being, her teacher took pain to make the subject easy for her.

Flourishing her creativity, she completed her school project with classmates under which she covered the classroom floor with Indian geography map and ceiling with black colored newspaper highlighted with stars.

Seeing or talking about planes always elevated her excitement level. Thus, she used to draw sky, stars and planes, when her other classmates used to draw mountains, rivers and home in extra activities classes.

  • Father:

    When Kalpana turned eleven, she asked her father to take her to the Club. Her father was an ordinary businessman who sold toffees, soaps, dates and groundnuts and later became the manufacturer of metal boxes used for storing provisions. With his hard-work, he is now a renowned tyre factory owner.

Being a middle-class man who himself never went to such clubs, his father didn’t denied her beloved daughter, but took her to the desired place where she enjoyed thrilling joyride abroad a Pushpak. That day, it was her father’s support that she made her to discover her first love with flying.

Also, she got inspired by JRD Tata who was the first Indian pilot.

  • Mother:

    Seeing or talking about planes always elevated her excitement level. Thus, she used to draw sky, stars and planes, when her other classmates used to draw mountains, rivers and home in extra activities classes.

Despite of the fact that Kalpana was not aware of the role of a flight engineer, she used to tell people that she want to become a flight engineer. The reason being, that she thought that flight engineers design aircrafts and she too wanted to do the same.

When Kalpana completed school, she didn’t followed on-going traditions of getting married at early age. She followed her teachers inspiration who used to teach that wasting education is not a good idea, instead it should be utilized for some good purpose.

However, her mother was a housewife, but another interesting fact was that she belonged to a educated family. According to her mother, Kalpana was different as she used to cut her own hair and never wore ironed clothes. Her mother always pampered Kalpana and fought for her as Kalpana demanded to join college for higher studies.

With the incredible support of her family, especially mother, she got enrolled at Punjab Engineering College to study aeronautical engineering and earned Bachelor of Science degree. During her bachelor studies, she performed so well and ranked among the toppers due to which the institute offered a job there itself.


Chawla’s family decision of sending her abroad:

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Her journey started, when she refused joining the offered job from her college, but decided to pursue Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from University of Texas to which she applied.

Since, she was a girl of a town where no girl stepped outside the city for higher education, therefore, it was a big challenge for her parents to go against the tradition. Ignoring the on-going trend, they decided and allowed their daughter to pursue her career further.

In 1982, Kalpana moved to U.S. to join University of Texas at Arlington, where she performed well and met Jean-Pierre, a flying instructor and aviation author. A year later after moving to U.S., she married him in 1983.

Being the native of India, she did not hesitated to marry Jean-Pierre who was a French American. The decision of marrying him became easy as her brother convinced his parents and supported his sister once again.

“Drinking tea, eating cookies and checking email on a spaceship with a night sky. That’s worth a life.”  – Kalpana Chawla

She was so determined to become an astronaut such that she completed her Masters successfully in 1984 and earned second Masters degree in 1986.

With continuous support of her parents, she successfully completed doctorate in aerospace engineering in 1988 from University of Colorado  at Boulder.

With her excellence, she got a job offer from NASA and thus, she started working for NASA’s Ames Research Center. She also held a certified flight instructor’s license and commercial pilot’s licenses. These licenses were applicable to airplane & glider ratings and single & multiengine land & sea planes, respectively.


Chawla’s family: Her persistent motivation booster

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Akin to other Indian parents who desire to keep their children with them to shower their love and care, Kalpana’s parents never forced her to come back and settle down in India. They kept on motivating and praising her for achievements due to which she made remarkable progress throughout her career.

She saw her dream coming true, when her first space mission began in 1997. This is when she became the first Indian born woman and second Indian person to fly in space after Rakesh Sharma. Under this mission, she traveled 10.67 million kilometer which is 252 times around the Earth. To complete this distance, she contributed 372 hours in Space.

After returning from her first launch, she said, “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.”

In 2000, again she got selected for her second flight which delayed due to a few conflicts and technical faults. This mission got approval for the launch on January 2003, when  Kalpana took her second voyage to space with other six crew members of the mission.

Unfortunately, the crew of seven members including Kalpana Chawla got killed in Space Shuttle Columbia disaster and we lost her physical body, but not her presence that is still with us in the form of various memorials dedicated to her and incredible achievements.

His brother, Sanjay Chawla, a successful businessman said, “To me, my sister is not dead. She is immortal. Isn’t that what a star is? She is a permanent star in the sky. She will always be up there where she belongs.” 


Kalpana is still inspiring us:

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Despite of becoming India-American astronaut, she was always proud of her roots as it was her family who supported, helped and motivated her to fulfill all her dreams which she lived for real.

When Kalpana was alive, she used to visit India, her hometown to motivate young girls for following their dreams. She used to push them for getting successful in achieving their goals like her.

She also sent a message from the abroad shuttle to the college students, “The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get onto it… . Wishing you a great journey.”

In one of her interviews she said how it felt being a woman in her domain.

“I really never, ever thought, while pursuing my studies or doing anything else that I was a woman or a person from a small city or a different country. I pretty much had my dreams like anyone else and I followed them. And people who were around me, fortunately, always encouraged me and said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, carry on’.” – Kalpana Chawla.

After she got died in the disaster, not only Indians dedicated various memorials in various forms to pay her tribute, but authorities across the world also introduced many varied memorials in her name.

India paid a huge contribution by declaring the meteorological series of satellites as Kalpana which was earlier name as MetSat. The first satellite, MetSat-1 was then renamed as Kalpana-1. Not only this, NASA also dedicated a supercomputer to Chawla.


It’s Your Turn To Learn:

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The entire life of Kalpana Chawla and her parent’s role for making her successful in achieving goals can be inspiring.  Her journey can motivate all those parents who still think that being a girl can hinder the path towards success or being a native of small town can break traditions of the society, if sent abroad for higher studies or training.

Inspiring and supporting a child, especially girls can bring out another Kalpana Chawla among Indians. If Kalpana was not sent abroad for her studies and to build her dreams, she wouldn’t have never got an identity across the world.

Her parents are now the proud parents who must be happy to had Kalpana Chawla as their daughter. It was them who allowed her to live her dream, instead of forcing her to get married after schooling or to get back to India.

Kalpana Chawla had died like a hero who is still alive in all of our hearts, parents and young girls who want to fulfill their dreams like Kalpana did. She not only inspired India to bring girls forward, but also justified the saying, “Where there is a will, there is way.”

So, being a parent, never pressurize a daughter to settle down with a family as a wife or a mother following the rituals and traditions. Instead help her to become what she see herself in future. Who knows, if your daughter can also become other Kalpana Chawla or legendary who can give identity to herself and you across the world.



Nikita Kashyap is associated with YoGems.She is expert at writing Blogs,Articles on Dancing.You can follow her at Twitter to get updated with her post.