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Home > News > Report

Kalpana Chawla: Inspiration for a generation

Vijay Singh in Mumbai | February 02, 2004 23:11 IST

A year after she met with a blazing end amidst the stars she had once wanted to touch, astronaut Kalpana Chawla continues to inspire students all across the world to dream and dream big.

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On February 1 last year, the Columbia Space Shuttle disintegrated as it entered the earth's atmosphere killing Kalpana and six fellow astronauts. But the memory of this amiable girl, who rose from a dusty neighbourhood of Karnal to reach the Mecca of space science -- the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA -- continues to live in the dreams of countless others like her, who want to explore new vistas, stretch limits and live life by their own rules.

Saurabh Jain is a student of aerospace propulsion at IIT, Powai. Kalpana is a huge source of inspiration for him.

"I am not the only one...Kalpana has probably inspired an entire generation of students who want to be astronauts. Success is always inspiring and the kind of dazzling success Kalpana had was special.

"India at this point of time is behind the US as far as space technology is concerned. If we can close this gap, if we can develop the technology to undertake manned space missions, it will be a great achievement." he says. 

Jevin, a student of mechanical engineering, is currently involved in an aerospace engineering project. "Kalpana was an astronaut-engineer, which is sort of my dream. She is, of course, an inspiration. I believe inspiration always comes form success. There are any number of Indians trying to make it big in the area of space engineering, but Kalpana by her success has become an icon. If I can contribute something to a space mission, that would be great."

Rao, a PHD student of Infrared Signatures Technology, finds Kalpana's success commendable because of the middle-class upbringing she had. "Not many can achieve what she did coming from where she did," he says.

"A girl taking aerospace as a career is a great achievement in itself. Even today, it's unusual to find girls in aerospace engineering. It's a story of courage...it's an inspiring story. It was finally her determination that took her to NASA."

Rao's dream is to see India emerge as a military superpower. "I dream of joining the Indian Air Force, which is one of best fleet in the world in terms of technology and power," he says.
 
Manish Chowhan is a fifth-year student of aircraft propulsion. Though his subject is related to aircraft, he has learnt a lot from Kalpana's life. "She had the passion to achieve her dreams. That is something everyone can learn from her life," he says. 

Manish says India lost a lot of talent to the western countries, especially the United States, because there is far too much government interference in educational institutions here.

"Our problem is the way we manage things. We have a lot of money, but there is somewhere, something lacking in management side. This is the reason why students are going to the USA," he says.

Rajkumar S Pant, an associate professor in the department of aerospace engineering, was one year junior to Kalpana at an engineering college in Chandigarh.

"She passed out in '82 and went abroad for higher studies. I passed out the next year. Even in those years, she was an inspiration for all of us. She was always extremely committed to whatever she was doing, Those days very few girls would enter engineering colleges. In aerospace engineering class, she was the only girl. Now I have two girls in my class. She was a pioneer," Pant says.

He recalls that Kalpana never stayed in college hostel. "She always had an independent accommodation outside the college campus. She would stay alone."

In second year, Pant remembers, Kalpana had organised a seminar in which officers from the Indian Air Force were invited to speak. "That's when I saw her commitment. Everything was organised perfectly to the last detail," he says. 

"In the final year, she invited six to seven junior students for dinner at her house. Now, in Chandigarh in those days it was unusual to get invited to a girl's house for dinner. She cooked for everyone. We asked her if she was not afraid staying alone...she said she is black belt in karate and that nobody can mess with her."

Pant and Kalpana kept in touch after she left for the US, sometimes through emails, sometimes through mutual friends.

"She's an inspirational figure for my students. Girls say if she could do all that she did coming from a middle class family in Karnal, why can't they."





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