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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Inspiration :Kalpana Chawla

I N S P I R A T I O N
R E A C H I N G F O R T H E S T A R S

Kalpana chawla was born in 1961 in karnal to Banarasi Lal Chawla and Sanjyoti. She was the youngest to the family of four children. She has two sisters and a brother. She was fondly called ‘Montu’ at home. The ancestors of Kalpana had come to India form Pakistan during the riots that followed partition carrying nothing with them than their innate optimism and resourcefulness. Although the family was economically comfortable, Kalpana and her brothers and sisters grew up on account of their remarkable hard work and perseverance. She became India’s first woman astronaut to go into space. Before the launch of the Columbia in 2003, kalpana said that in her early years in India everyone as a rule should work hard. It instilled the notion that no matter whatever the circumstances could be one should follow one’s dreams. It happened to be the characteristic of her family members and left a deep and lasting impression on young Kalpana.
During the days of her childhood a girl child has to overcome many social barriers and restrictions. There was no importance to education to academic excellence among all its children. Kalpana also found immense strength and support in her mother who believed that one should always do what one loves best. She had studied in the Tagore Bal Niketan School headed by a principal who loved children and it had teachers who were caring and deeply committed to their profession. As it played a great role in shaping of kalpana, she remembered her school with gratitude all her life.
Kalpana was always fascinated by aircraft. She enjoyed making pictures and models of airplanes in her art and craft classes. She loved watching trainer aircraft land and take off. Seeing her passion for flying her father managed to arrange a few joyrides aboard. On hot summer nights, when the family would sleep in the open on coir cots, Kalpana would lose herself watching the twinkling stars which bring several basic questions to her curious mind. Kalpana remarked that those nights raised the deep sense of fascination for the sky. By the time she left school, she was certain that she wanted to be an aerospace engineer. kalpana completed her pre degree from Dayal singh college in Karnal and joined the Punjab Engineering college (PEC) in chandigarh. Even the conservative chawla family was uncomfortable to send her outside their town; she succeeded in convincing her family. At the PEC she opted to study aeronautical engineering. The determination of kalpana to become a flight engineer could not be stopped by the principal and the teachers of the college who tried to persuade kalpana to change her choice of study. With her indomitable attitude and persistence she began to be noticed by her teachers and classmates .Very soon, she rose to the top of the class. In her view not only the final destination was important but also the means. She believed that one should enjoy whatever one did in life. She was equally interested in sports as well as the activities of Aero and Astro society. At the PEC, she learnt about aircraft materials, propulsion and theoretical aerodynamics which gave her a strong foundation for her future years of study and later when she became an astronaut. When she left her small home town to join the University of Texas at Arlington, Kalpana chawla took yet another small step to lead her to the grand finale of the dream.
Kalpana chawla joined the NASA Ames research center in California after completing her PH.D in aerospace engineering. While at the research centre, she had applied to the NASA space centre to become an astronaut. Kalpana never took success for granted and worked hard to prepare herself for the interview. She paid special attention to improve her public speaking skills. In the interview, she stood one among the nineteen candidates selected to be members of NASA’s fifteenth batch of astronauts. The training at the NASA centre comprised of an instruction in land and sea survival as well as in operating aircraft. She had spent for months in high- fidelity simulators and under zero- gravity conditions. In November 1997 Kalpana was given a chance to go into space as one of the six crew members on board the Columbia shuttle’s STS- 87 mission. Kalpana was assigned the job of the prime robotic arm operator. Also she had to monitor experiments conducted on board and perform extra- vehicular Activities. Apart from the wonderful experience she had in her first sight of the earth from the shuttle, she realized that the earth was a very small part of the universe and the need to make a serious effort to save its environment and natural resources.
Kalpana never forgot her friends or the institutions that she had been associated with. She had an intense yearning to give back a part of what she had gained, to society and to all those who had inspired her. She arranged a program through which two students form her school could visit the NASA facilities every year. Kalapna also planned to sponsor a young student to a university in South Africa. When faced with options Kalpana had always chosen the more difficult and challenging one. It was evident, when she chose to be a crew member for the STS- 107 launch, instead of choosing the relatively easy path of being ground crew just as a top position in Silicon Valley, which she left two years ago. When her family and friends were waiting at Cape Canaveral to receive her, all communication with the Columbia snapped. The seven crew members on board lost their lives due to a blast in the shuttle. She was a truly remarkable woman who presented a rare combination of a brilliant mind and an intensely human spirit. Her courage to dream to reach stars would have seemed unattainable to most of us. Her determination and relentless perseverance in striving to achieve her goal led her to a meaningful life.

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