Continuing the series of blogs by IWRM on Indian women who have smashed stereotypes and have entered male bastions, here is the Eleventh piece on Indian Women Astronauts.
Kalpana Chawla was an American astronaut and the first woman of Indian origin to go to space. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. In 2003,she was one of the seven crew members who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when the craft disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and several streets, universities and institutions have been named in her honor.She was born on 17 March 1962 in Karnal, India, but her official date of birth was altered to 1 July 1961 to allow her to become eligible for the matriculation exam. As a child, Kalpana liked to draw pictures of airplanes. After getting a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College, she moved to the United States in 1982 and obtained a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984Chawla went on to earn a second Masters in 1986 and a PhD in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado Boulder. In 1988, she began working at NASA, where she did computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research on vertical and/or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) concepts. In 1993, she joined Overset Methods, Inc. as Vice President and Research Scientist specializing in simulation of moving multiple body problemsChawla held a Certificated Flight Instructor rating for airplanes, gliders and Commercial Pilot licenses for single and multi-engine airplanes, seaplanes and gliders. After becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in April 1991, she applied for the NASA Astronaut Corps. She joined the corps in March 1995 and was selected for her first flight in 1996. Her first space mission began on May 2, 1997, as part of the six-astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87. She was the first Indian woman to fly in space. She spoke the following words while traveling in the weightlessness of space, On her first mission, she traveled over 10.4 million miles (16737177.6 km) in 252 orbits of the earth, logging more than 372 hours (15 Days and 12 Hours) in space. During STS-87, she was responsible for deploying the Spartan satellite which malfunctioned, necessitating a spacewalk by Winston Scott and Takao Doi to capture the satellite. A five-month NASA investigation fully exonerated her by identifying errors in software interfaces and the defined procedures of flight crew and ground control. After the completion of STS-87 post-flight activities, shewas assigned to technical positions in the astronaut office to work on the space station. In 2000, she was selected for her second flight as part of the crew of STS-107. This mission was repeatedly delayed due to scheduling conflicts and technical problems such as the July 2002 discovery of cracks in the shuttle engine flow liners. On January 16, 2003, she finally returned to space aboard Space Shuttle Columbia on the ill-fated STS-107 mission. The crew performed nearly 80 experiments studying earth and space science, advanced technology development, and astronaut health and safety. During the launch of STS-107, Columbia‘s 28th mission, a piece of foam insulation broke off from the Space Shuttle external tank and struck the left wing of the orbiter. Previous shuttle launches had seen minor damage from foam shedding, but some engineers suspected that the damage to Columbia was more serious. NASA managers limited the investigation, reasoning that the crew could not have fixed the problem if it had been confirmed. When Columbia re-entered the atmosphere of Earth, the damage allowed hot atmospheric gases to penetrate and destroy the internal wing structure, which caused the spacecraft to become unstable and break apart. After the disaster, Space Shuttle flight operations were suspended for more than two years, similar to the aftermath of the Challenger disaster. Construction of the International Space Station (ISS) was put on hold; the station relied entirely on the Russian Roscosmos State Corporation for resupply for 29 months until Shuttle flights resumed with STS-114 and 41 months for crew rotation. She died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster which occurred on February 1, 2003, she was killed, along with the other six crew members, when the Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107. With her two missions in space, Chawla had logged a total of “30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space”. 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.
Honors and recognition
Asteroid 51826 Kalpana chawla, one of seven named after the Columbia‘s crew.
On February 5, 2003, the Prime Minister of India announced that the meteorological series of satellites, MetSat, was to be renamed “Kalpana”. The first satellite of the series, “MetSat-1”, launched by India on September 12, 2002 was renamed “Kalpana-1“.
74th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City has been renamed “Kalpana Chawla Way” in her honor.
The Kalpana Chawla Award was instituted by the Government of Karnataka in 2004 to recognize young women scientists.
NASA has dedicated a supercomputer to Chawla.
One of Florida Institute of Technology‘s student apartment complexes, Columbia Village Suites, has halls named after each of the astronauts, including Chawla.
The NASA Mars Exploration Rover mission has named seven peaks in a chain of hills, named the Columbia Hills, after each of the seven astronauts lost in the Columbia shuttle disaster. One of them is Chawla Hill, named after Chawla.
Steve Morse from the band Deep Purple created the song “Contact Lost” in memory of the Columbia tragedy along with her interest in the band. The song can be found on the album Bananas.
Novelist Peter David named a shuttlecraft, the Chawla, after the astronaut in his 2007 Star Trek novel, Star Trek: The Next Generation: Before Dishonor.
The Kalpana Chawla ISU Scholarship fund was founded by alumni of the International Space University (ISU) in 2010 to support Indian student participation in international space education programs.
The Kalpana Chawla Memorial Scholarship program was instituted by the Indian Students Association (ISA) at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in 2005 for meritorious graduate students.
The Kalpana Chawla Outstanding Recent Alumni Award at the University of Colorado, given since 1983, was renamed after Chawla.
The University of Texas at Arlington, where Chawla obtained a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering in 1984, opened a dormitory named Kalpana Chawla Hall in 2004.
Kalpana Chawla Hall, University of Texas Arlington
In addition, the university dedicated the Kalpana Chawla Memorial on May 3, 2010, in Nedderman Hall, one of the primary buildings in the College of Engineering.
The girls’ hostel at Punjab Engineering College is named after Chawla. In addition, an award of INR twenty-five thousand, a medal, and a certificate is instituted for the best student in the Aeronautical Engineering department.
The Government of Haryana established the Kalpana Chawla Planetarium in Jyotisar, Kurukshetra.
The Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, named the Kalpana Chawla Space Technology Cell in her honor.
Delhi Technological University named a girls’ hostel block after Chawla
A military housing development at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, has been named Columbia Colony, and includes a street named Chawla Way.
Hostel blocks in Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology, SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Sagar Institute of Research & Technology, VIT University, Samrat Ashok Technological Institute and Pondicherry University have been named after Chawla.
Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College (KCGMC) is a Medical College formed for women located in Karnal, Haryana, India named after Chawla.
Kalpana Chawla Chowk is a name given/dedicated to a crossroad in Borivli, Mumbai in memory of the astronaut.
The Kalpana One Space Settlement is named in her honor.
Sunita Pandya Lyn Williams (born September 19, 1965) is an American astronaut and United States Navy officer of Indo–Slovenian descent. She formerly held the records for total spacewalks by a woman (seven) and most spacewalk time for a woman (50 hours, 40 minutes). Williams was assigned to the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 14 and Expedition 15. In 2012, she served as a flight engineer on Expedition 32 and then commander of Expedition 33.She was born in Euclid, Ohio, to Indian American neuroanatomist Deepak Pandya and Slovene American Ursuline Bonnie (Zalokar) Pandya, who reside in Falmouth, Massachusetts. She is the youngest of three children. Her brother Jay Thomas is four years older and her sister Dina Annadj is three years older. Williams’ paternal family is from Jhulasan, Mehsana district in Gujarat, India, while her maternal great-grandmother Mary Bohinc (originally Marija Bohinjec), born in Leše, Slovenia, immigrated to America as an eleven-year-old with her mother, 1891 Slovene emigrant Ursula (Strajhar) Bohinac.She graduated from Needham High School in Needham, Massachusetts, in 1983. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in physical science from the United States Naval Academy in 1987, and a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management from Florida Institute of Technology in 1995. She was commissioned an ensign in the United States Navy in May 1987. After a six-month temporary assignment at the Naval Coastal System Command, she was designated a Basic Diving Officer. She next reported to the Naval Air Training Command, where she was designated a Naval Aviator in July 1989. She received initial H-46 Sea Knight training in Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 3 (HC-3), and was then assigned to Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 8 (HC-8) in Norfolk, Virginia, with which she made overseas deployments to the Mediterranean, Red Sea and the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Provide Comfort. In September 1992, she was the Officer-in-Charge of an H-46 detachment sent to Miami, Florida, for Hurricane Andrew relief operations aboard USS Sylvania. In January 1993,she began training at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. She graduated in December, and was assigned to the Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Directorate as an H-46 Project Officer and V-22 chase pilot in the T-2. Later, she was assigned as the squadron Safety Officer and flew test flights in the SH-60B/F, UH-1, AH-1W, SH-2, VH-3, H-46, CH-53, and the H-57. In December 1995, she went back to the Naval Test Pilot School as an instructor in the Rotary Wing Department and as the school’s Safety Officer. There she flew the UH-60, OH-6, and the OH-58. She was then assigned to USS Saipan as the Aircraft Handler and the Assistant Air Boss.She was deployed on Saipan in June 1998 when she was selected by NASA for the astronaut program. She has logged more than 3,000 flight hours in more than 30 aircraft types.She was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) with STS-116, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, on December 9, 2006, to join the Expedition 14 crew. In April 2007, the Russian members of the crew rotated, changing to Expedition . She became the first person to run a marathon from the space station on April 16, 2007After launching aboard the Shuttle Discovery, she arranged to donate her pony tail to Locks of Love. Fellow astronaut Joan Higginbotham cut her hair aboard the International Space Station and the ponytail was brought back to Earth by the STS-116 crew. She performed her first extra-vehicular activity on the eighth day of the STS-116 mission. On January 31, February 4, and February 9, 2007, she completed three spacewalks from the ISS with Michael López-Alegría. During one of these walks, a camera became untethered, probably because the attaching device failed, and floated off to space before Williams could react. On the third spacewalk, she was outside the station for 6 hours and 40 minutes to complete three spacewalks in nine days. She has logged 29 hours and 17 minutes in four spacewalks, eclipsing the record held by Kathryn C. Thornton for most spacewalk time by a woman. On December 18, 2007, during the fourth spacewalk of Expedition 16, Peggy Whitson surpassed Williams, with a cumulative EVA time of 32 hours, 36 minutes. In early March 2007, she received a tube of wasabi in a Progress spacecraft resupply mission in response to her request for more spicy food. When she opened the tube, which was packaged at one atmospheric pressure, the gel-like paste was forced out in the lower pressure of the ISS. In the free-fall environment, the spicy geyser was difficult to contain. On April 26, 2007, NASA decided to bring her back to Earth on the STS-117 mission aboard Atlantis. She did not break the U.S. single spaceflight record that was recently broken by former crew member Commander Michael López-Alegría, but did break the record for longest single spaceflight by a woman. She served as a mission specialist and returned to Earth on June 22, 2007, at the end of the STS-117 mission. Poor weather at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral forced mission managers to skip three landing attempts there over previous 24 hours. They then diverted Atlantis to Edwards Air Force Base in California, where the shuttle touched down at 3:49 p.m. EDT, returning her home after a record 192-day stay in space.On April 16, 2007, she ran the first marathon by any person in space. Williams was listed as an entrant for the 2007 Boston Marathon, and completed the distance in four hours and 24 minutes. The other crew members cheered her on and gave her oranges during the race. Williams’ sister, Dina Pandya, and fellow astronaut Karen L. Nyberg ran the marathon on Earth, and Williams received updates on their progress from Mission Control. In 2008, she participated in the Boston Marathon again, this time on Earth. Williams launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 15, 2012, as part of Expedition 32/33. Her Russian spacecraft Soyuz TMA-05M docked with the ISS for a four-month stay at the orbiting outpost on July 17, 2012. The docking of the Soyuz occurred at 4:51 GMT as the ISS flew over Kazakhstan at an altitude of 252 miles. The hatchway between the Soyuz spacecraft and the ISS was opened at 7:23 GMT and she floated into the ISS to begin her duties as a member of the Expedition 32 crew. She was accompanied on the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Aki Hoshide and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. She served as commander of the ISS during her stay onboard ISS Expedition 33, succeeding Gennady Padalka. She became the commander of the International Space Station on September 17, 2012, being only the second woman to achieve the feat. Also in September 2012, she became the first person to do a triathlon in space, which coincided with the Nautica Malibu Triathlon held in Southern California. She used the International Space Station‘s own treadmill and stationary bike, and for the swimming portion of the race, she used the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) to do weightlifting and resistance exercises that approximate swimming in microgravity. After ‘swimming’ half a mile (0.8 km), ‘biking’ 18 miles (29 km), and ‘running’ 4 miles (6.4 km), shefinished with a time of one hour, 48 minutes and 33 seconds, as she reported. She returned to earth with fellow astronauts Flight Engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide on November 19, 2012, touching down in the town of Arkalyk, Kazakhstan. Helicopters joined the search-and-recovery crew to assist them, as their capsule parachuted down some 35 kilometres (22 mi) from the planned touchdown site due to a procedural delay. As of August 2012, she has made seven spacewalks totaling 50 hours and 40 minutes, putting Williams in No. 9 on the list of most experienced spacewalkers. On August 30, 2012, she and JAXA astronaut Hoshide ventured outside the ISS to conduct US EVA-18. They removed and replaced the failing Main Bus Switching Unit-1 (MBSU-1), and installed a thermal cover onto Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 (PMA-2). In July 2015, NASA announced she as one of the first astronauts for U.S. Commercial spaceflights. Subsequently, she has started working with Boeing and SpaceX to train in their commercial crew vehicles, along with other chosen astronauts. In August 2018 she was assigned to the first mission flight, CTS-1, to the International Space Station of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner.
Honors and awards
A general physician, 32-year-old Shawna Pandya is one of two candidates shortlisted from 3,200 people enrolled in the Citizen Science Astronaut (CSA) program. She may fly with eight other astronauts in space missions slated to take off by 2018.She, who was born in Alberta in Canada and has roots in Mumbai, is a woman of many talents. Apart from being an astronaut currently preparing for two space missions, she is a general physician (who works at Alberta University hospital), an author, an international taekwondo champion and has trained in Muay Thai with a Navy SEAL.Fluent in French, Spanish and Russian, this multitasker has even been a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, sung in an opera, walked the runway as a model and given a TEDx talk about resilience!Deeply passionate about both space and medical science, Shawna decided to study neuroscience because the first Canadian woman in space, Roberta Bondar, was a neuro-opthalmologist. This branch of medicine investigates the effects of spaceflight on the central nervous system of humans to establish countermeasures that will mitigate effects like space motion sickness.After completing her B.Sc in neuroscience at University of Alberta, Shawna did her M.Sc. in space sciences at International Space University. Thereafter, she got her MD in Medicine from University of Alberta.Interestingly, she had applied for medical school and the space program at the same time, aiming to build her career in space neuroscience, a field she finds exciting and immensely fascinating.She is working under a project called Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere (PoSSUM), which will study the effects of climate change. While training for this project at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in US, she wore spacesuits, rode on aerobatic flights and experienced changing gravity environments as part of the the Scientist-Astronaut course.Other than conducting experiments in space-specific bio-medicine, she will also be working on Physiological, Health, and Environmental Observations in Microgravity (PHEnOM). This is a microgravity human research program that will conduct cross-disciplinary research into commercial human spaceflight.She is also a prime crew member of Project Poseidon, a 100-day underwater mission at the Aquarius Space Research Facility in Florida, the world’s only undersea laboratory dedicated to science and education.If successful, Project Poseidon will surpass the world record for the longest mission conducted from an undersea habitat. The vision behind this research initiative is to facilitate a greater understanding of the link and synergy that exists between sea and space, and to use the mission as a catalyst to strengthen that connection.An adventure seeking go-getter who has been reaching for stars, figuratively as well as literally, she sees an opportunity in every challenge thrown at her.
All these Indian women astronauts prove that there is tremendous potential in India. Indian girl students and women, have the zeal to venture out, but aren’t always aware of the ways in which they can. All they need is to get acquainted with everyday developments in science, be resilient and always try to achieve something bigger.