17 Years After Her Death, Kalpana Chawla’s Father Talks About How She Was A Champion For Women’s Education
As a child, if anyone would ask me who my role model was I would say Princess Diana. She was the epitome of grace and beauty and of course, which little girl didn’t want to be a princess? Then one day my grandfather sat me down and read me the story of Kalpana Chawla. And I know this is a cliche but even at that age, her story of courage and determination spoke to me. Kalpana went down in history as one of the bravest women because she followed her dream to fly. And now, 17 years after her unfortunate demise her father has opened up about her story. Struggles and all. She led a truly inspiring life.
For all those who have lived under a rock all these years, Kalpana Chawla is the first woman astronaut of Indian-origin to go into space. She joined NASA in 1988. On February 1, 2003, the world waited for the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-107 to return safely. But as it was entering back into the earth’s atmosphere, it disintegrated over Texas killing the seven people crew, including Kalpana. That day, the world lost a hero. Her life has influenced millions of young girls around the world to persevere towards their dreams.
After her untimely death, NASA awarded Kalpana with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, NASA Space Flight Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal. They also named one of their spacecraft after Kalpana Chawla. And that spacecraft reached the International Space station (ISS) this week, carrying nearly 8,000 pounds of scientific investigations. What a fitting way to honour her memory, don’t you think?
Her father, Banarasi Lal Chawla told News18 that Kalpana had only one dream. She wanted no child, especially no girl child, to grow up without an education. It’s an issue that is relevant even today, 17 years after her death. Her father believes that if more people get to know his daughter’s story, they’ll aspire to be like her. A proud father. There’s nothing like it.
Talking about Kalpana’s childhood, he said that she knew she wanted to fly ever since she saw a plane at the age of three or four. He said, “Kalpana was about three or four years old when she first saw a plane. She had been playing on the rooftop when she saw a plane flying above our house. She seemed so excited. I took her to the flying club near our house where a pilot agreed to take us for a ride. Kalpana’s joys knew no bounds. She had always wanted to fly.”
However, after she graduated from school and enrolled in Punjab Engineering College to study aeronautical engineering, her professors tried to dissuade her. They told her there was no scope for it in this country. But of course, she was determined and there was no talking her out of it. Her father said, “When Kalpana went to Chandigarh, the professors of the college initially tried to dissuade her from taking up the course. They told her that there was no scope for this subject in India. But she was adamant.”
Kalpana was not only adamant about following her dreams, but she also wanted to give that opportunity to as many children as she could. Talking about how she has helped so many children her father said, “She earned well while working at NASA. But she never cared for materialistic things. She would spend all her money on helping underprivileged kids with education. She would reach out to students who were unable to complete their education due to financial constraints and help them out as far as she could.” It was her who started the tradition of sending two children from India to NASA every year. In total, Kalpana had sent 14 children from India to NASA. She was a champion for children’s education. Especially young girls. Her story just continues to surprise and inspire me.
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Her father also talked about how he wanted to give her as much as possible so that she could follow her dreams. He said, “I was not thinking about education when Kalpana said she wanted to go to the United States, I just wanted to give her everything she wanted.”
This is something all Indian families need to read. Over and over again. So many girls in our country have untapped potential, just like Kalpana Chawla. But it all goes to waste because they don’t the support of their family. They are plucked from their education and pushed into marriage without a second thought. Even in that time, Kalpana’s family gave her space, support and resources she needed to achieve her dreams, create history and touch millions of lives. We need more families to be just as supportive as hers. It’ll make all the difference.
Kalpana Chawla is hands down one of the most inspirational people to have walked the earth and to explore space. Her story will continue to inspire generations. However, I do hope that people learn from her story and use it as an example of why young girls need to be educated and encouraged to follow their dreams.