US Firm Names its Mission Spacecraft After Late Indian-origin Astronaut Kalpana Chawla

File photo of Kalpana Chawla

File photo of Kalpana Chawla

The S.S. Kalpana Chawla will be mounted atop the firm’s Antares rocket.

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  • Last Updated: September 9, 2020, 2:34 PM IST


A private firm dealing in space, aeronautics and defence has named its latest mission spacecraft after Kalpana Chawla, the first woman astronaut of Indian origin to enter space. Under its NG-14 mission, Northrop Grumman is set to launch the Cygnus spacecraft meant to carry cargo into the International Space Station.

The S.S. Kalpana Chawla will be mounted atop the firm’s Antares rocket, which is a two-stage vehicle with an optional third stage that provides low-Earth orbit launch capability for payloads weighing up to 8,000 kg.

“It is the company’s tradition to name each Cygnus after an individual who has played a pivotal role in human spaceflight,” said Northrop Grumman in a statement on Tuesday.

“(Kalpana) Chawla was selected in honor of her prominent place in history as the first woman of Indian descent to go to space,” it added.

Bornin Karnal, Haryana on March 17, 1962, Chawla received a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College in 1982. She then moved to the United States to pursue a Master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988.

Chawla began her career at NASA in 1988. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. Her second spaceflight experience came in 2001 when she was selected for the crew of STS-107.

On February 1, 2003, Chawla died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster along with the other six crew members, when the spacecraft carrying them disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission.

The Northrop Grumman said that while Chawla made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the space program, her legacy lives on through her fellow astronauts and those she has inspired to follow in her footsteps.

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