Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, Haryana on 1st July, 1961. Her father Banarsi Lal Chawla was then a leading industrialist of Karnal and owned a Tire factory. Her mother Sanyogita Chawla, a housewife, expected a boy as her last child, when Kalpana was born. In 1976, she did her schooling from Tagore Bal Niketan school, Karnal. She did her pre-university and pre-engineering from Dayal Singh College, Karnal. She then graduated with BSc (Engg) degree in Aeronautics from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. Master of science degree in aerospace engineering in 1984 from University of Texas. Doctorate of philosophy in aerospace engineering from University of Colorado, 1988.
Family: Her elder sister Sunita Chaudhary and her sister in law, Anjali Chawla are ardent bird watchers in Delhi. Her brother Sanjay is a businessman. Kalpana got married to Jean Pierre Harrison, a flying instructor in 1984.
Hobbies: Kalpana Chawla enjoyed flying, hiking, back-packing, and reading. She held Certificated Flight Instructor's license with airplane and glider ratings, Commercial Pilot's licenses for single- and multi-engine land and seaplanes, and Gliders, and instrument rating for airplanes. She enjoyed flying aerobatics and tail-wheel airplanes.
Career: In 1988, Kalpana Chawla started work at NASA Ames Research Center in the area of powered-lift computational fluid dynamics. Her research concentrated on simulation of complex air flows encountered around aircraft such as the Harrier in "ground-effect." Following completion of this project she supported research in mapping of flow solvers to parallel computers, and testing of these solvers by carrying out powered lift computations. In 1993 Kalpana Chawla joined Overset Methods Inc., Los Altos, California, as Vice President and Research Scientist to form a team with other researchers specializing in simulation of moving multiple body problems. She was responsible for development and implementation of efficient techniques to perform aerodynamic optimization. Results of various projects that Kalpana Chawla participated in are documented in technical conference papers and journals.
Astronaut: Kalpana was selected by NASA in December 1994, as an astronaut candidate in the 15th Group of Astronauts. She reported to the Johnson Space Center in March 1995. After completing a year of training and evaluation, she was assigned as crew representative to work technical issues for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches. Her assignments included work on development of Robotic Situational Awareness Displays and testing space shuttle control software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory.
First Mission: Kalpana Chawla was mission specialist and prime robotic arm operator on Space shuttle mission STS-87. This mission from 19/11/97 to 05/12/97 lasted 15 days, 16 hours, 34 minutes. In completing her first mission, Kalpana Chawla traveled 6.5 million miles in 252 orbits of the Earth and logged 376 hours and 34 minutes in space. In January, 1998, Kalpana Chawla was assigned as crew representative for shuttle and station flight crew equipment. Subsequently, she was assigned as the lead for Astronaut Office’s Crew Systems and Habitability section.
Second Mission: She was one of the seven members of the crew of STS-107 as Mission Specialist. This mission from 16/01/03 to 01/02/03 lasted 15 days, 22 hours, 21 minutes and resulted in her tragic death. The space shuttle Columbia, while returning to Earth, disintegrated in air on 1st Feb, 03 about 16 minutes before it was scheduled to touch down, killing all seven crew members.