‘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…’
The aforementioned line tells the story of feisty astronaut Kalpana Chawla a.k.a Monto who smashed the glass ceiling and made her way into the hall of space fame.
Popularly known as the first Indian woman to make her way to space, she took her last breath on the 1st of Feb 2003. She died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster shortly before the completion of its 28th mission. The shuttle crashed over Texas while heading to earth.
Born on March 17, 1962 to a middle class family in conservative Haryana, Kalpana had always dreamed big.
With her mother’s constant support, the undaunted lass worked determinedly to become an astronaut. After completing her elementary education, she studied aeronautical engineering at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh. Though she wasn’t one of the prominent students of her college, her acumen and alacrity never let her off the track. She flew down to the US in 1982, aspiring to join NASA (National Space and Aeronautical Administration). Garnering an MSc degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas, she went on to do a PhD in aerospace engineering in a bid to consolidate her knowledge in the field.
Besides her fetish for space, she also dabbled in other fields like scuba diving, poetry, dancing, badminton etc. Her wedlock with a flying instructor Jean-Pierre Harrison reiterated the overwhelming prevalence of space and astronomy in her life.
Her first flight aboard Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 gave concrete shape to her dream and marked the pinnacle of her career.
“If you want to do something, what does it matter where you are ranked? Nor does being a woman make a difference. We were all just crew members,” this is what the maverick had to say when she was asked of her feeling on being the first Indian woman to be in space, as quoted in a media report.
Her stint in space changed her outlook. She took to a more broadened perspective wherein reveries of life got deafened before the vastness of universe. As quoted in one of her interviews she said, “ There are so many people arguing over petty issues which don’t have much relevance. We must all realize it is not worth it.”
Thirteen years on from that fateful day, her devotion to breaking barriers continues to inspire many....