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Kalpana Chawla blasts off on second space mission
January 16, 2003 22:14 IST
Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian American woman to be sent to space, embarked on her second voyage on Thursday when the US space shuttle Columbia blasted off for a research mission, from Cape Canaveral, that would help develop medicines to treat several diseases, including cancer.
Columbia was launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 1039 (EST, 2119 IST) amidst a tight security cover in near perfect weather conditions.
India-born space engineer Chawla is in the mission led by Commander Rick Husband, a colonel in the US Air Force.
Earlier, she was a member of the six-astronaut crew that flew the Columbia Flight STS-87 on November 19, 1997.
The crew members will carry out several experiments that would analyse changes that take place in human beings and proteins under zero gravity conditions.
The results of these experiments would go a long way in developing medicines to treat several diseases, including cancer.
In a pre-flight talk with reporters at the KSC, Chawla said J R D Tata, who flew the first mail flights in India, prompted her to take up aeronautics as a career.
"What J R D Tata had done during those years was very intriguing and definitely captivated my imagination," she said.
The latest Columbia flight will be the first dedicated research mission to be flown by the shuttle in almost three years. The mission would give 70 international scientists access to the microgravity environment of space, and a set of seven human researchers, for 16 uninterrupted days.
The presence of Israel's Ilan Ramon, a 48-year-old air force colonel, who as a fighter pilot took part in several missions against Arab targets in 1973 and 1982, has overshadowed the more than 80 experiments to be carried out during the two week mission.
Security had been significantly stepped up since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, with fighter jets patrolling the skies and ground-to-air missile batteries deployed around the launch sites.
Columbia will carry, in its payload bay, a module, which will hold most of the mission's more than 80 experiments -- involving more than 70 scientists wroldwide -- that will investigate space, life and physical sciences.
An odd assortment of animals is also aboard Columbia, mostly from student experimenters. The menagerie includes
spiders, ants, silkworms, mealworms, carpenter bees, fish embroyos and rats.
Incidentally, Sunita Lyn Williams (nee Pandya) is also in the elite list of shortlisted astronauts and may become the second American Indian to go into space after Chawla.