Kalpana Chawla

Union Minister of Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan has called Kalpana Chawla an inspiration for girls. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

NEW DELHI — Remembering Kalpana Chawla – the first Indian-born woman in space – on the 15th Anniversary of the Columbia Accident, Union Minister of Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan Feb. 1 said that Chawla is an inspiration as she defied all traditions to reach the sky.

In 2003, on the morning of Feb.1, space shuttle Columbia broke up just 16 minutes from landing on Earth, killing the seven astronauts of the STS-107 mission. 

"In remembrance of #KalpanaChawla, who died this day in 2003 along with 6 crew members of #SpaceShuttleColumbia. An idol for every Indian, especially girls," Vardhan said in a tweet.

"Kalpana, born in a conservative society, broke several traditions to become the first Indian-born Woman Astronaut in space," he added.

Earlier this week, addressing the nation in his first Mann Ki Baat radio show of 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi remembered Chawla and said she gave out a valuable message to all Indians, especially young girls. 

"...Her message is, 'Nothing is impossible for women, if they have a strong will,'" Modi said. 

According to NASA, a piece of foam, falling from the external tank during launch, had opened a hole in one of the shuttle's wings, leading to the breakup of the orbiter upon re-entry.

"Today the entire NASA Family pauses to reflect on the legacy and memory of our colleagues who have lost their lives advancing the frontiers of exploration. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude and respect," NASA's Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement on NASA's annual Day of Remembrance Jan. 25.

"The crews exemplified a pioneering spirit that helped us get where we are today, and we will carry that spirit forward in advancing tomorrow's missions. Those crews, and all of the men and women who have lost their lives extending the bounds of our capabilities while working for NASA, will not be forgotten," he said.

The US agency also paid tributes to the crews of space shuttle Columbia, as well as Apollo 1 and Challenger.

Born in Karnal, India, July 1, 1961, Chawla who was the youngest of four children, graduated from Tagore School, Karnal, India, in 1976. 

After completing her bachelor of science in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, she went on to become an aerospace engineer and an FAA Certified Flight Instructor.

Chawla served as Flight Engineer and Mission Specialist 2 for STS-107 and became the second Indian person to fly in space after astronaut Rakesh Sharma. 

The 16-day flight on the STS-107 Columbia, was a dedicated science and research mission. Working 24 hours a day, in two alternating shifts, the crew successfully conducted approximately 80 experiments. 

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