Northrop Grumman names its next space ship after Kalpana Chawla — the first woman of Indian-origin to go to space

Northrop Grumman's S.S. Kalpana Chawla will carry over 3,000 kilos of cargo to the ISS in September NASA
  • The US aerospace and defence major Northrop Grumman has named its newest spaceship the S.S. Kalpana Chawla after the first woman of Indian-origin to travel through space.
  • The S.S. Kalpana Chawla will tentatively launch on September 29 and carry 3,629 kilos of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).
  • According to Northrop Grumman, it is the company’s tradition to name its Cygnus spacecrafts after individuals who have made notable contributions to human spaceflight.
The US-based aerospace and defence company, Northrop Grumman, is naming its next spaceship after the first woman of Indian-origin to travel through space — Kalpana Chawla.

The Space Shuttle Columbia crew from left to right: David M. Brown, Rick D. Husband, Laurel B. Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael P. Anderson, William C. McCool, Ilan RamonNASA

The S.S. Kalpana Chawla will be the company’s next Cygnus spacecraft to make its way to the International Space Station (ISS). “It is the company’s tradition to name each Cygnus after an individual who has played a pivotal role in human spaceflight,” Northrop Grumman said in a statement.

The spacecraft is tentatively scheduled to launch from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Wallop Flight Facility in Virginia on September 29. The S.S. Kalpana Chawla will deliver 3,629 kilos of cargo to the ISS that will be loaded onto the spacecraft 24 hours before liftoff.

Astronaut Kalpana Chawla, STS-107 mission specialist, prepares to simulate a parachute drop into water during an emergency bailout training session in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near the Johnson Space Center (JSC)NASA

The spacecraft is not the first time that Chawla has been honoured for her contribution to space. In 2003, shortly after Chawla’s death, India’s Prime Minister at the time — Atal Bihari Vajpayee — renamed the MetSat-1 to Kalpana-1 in her honour.

NASA has also named a supercomputer after Chawla. It was the world’s first single-system image (SSI) Linus supercomputer. In 2004, it was integrated, as the first node, into the 20-node Columbia supercomputer.


NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit spots Columbia HillsNASA

On the Red Planet, a chain of seven peaks dubbed the Columbia Hills are each named after the astronauts that perished in the Columbia disaster — one of which is Chawla’s namesake.

Who was Kalpana Chawla?
Kalpana Chawla was born and brought up in Karnal. She moved to the US after getting her bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from India’s Punjab Engineering College in 1982.

Two years down the line, she received her master’s degree in aerospace engineering and continued to pursue her doctorate.

Chawla embarked on her career with NASA at the Ames Research Centre in California in 1988, but left for a brief period, before returning as an astronaut candidate in 1994.

STS-87 Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla sits in her launch and entry suit in the Operations and Checkout Building before she and the five other crew members of STS-87 depart for Launch Pad 39B. This was Chawla's first mission for NASA.NASA

Her first space flight was the STS-87 on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. She returned to space again in 2003 aboard the Columbia for a 16-day research flight during which the crew of the STS-107 performed nearly 80 experiments studying Earth and space science.


STS-107 Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla scans paperwork for equipment at SPACEHAB at Cape Canaveral in Florida during crew trainingNASA

However, during her second stint through space, Chawla and her six crew members on the STS-107 perished on 1 February 2003 as the spacecraft was reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Why did Kalpana Chawla’s spacecraft crash?
During the launch of the STS-107, a piece of the foam insulation from the space shuttle’s external tank broke off and hit the left wing on the orbiter.

Space Shuttle Columbia takes off on mission STS 107 on 16 January 2003 with Kalpana Chawla and six other crew members on boardNASA


When the spacecraft re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, the damage allowed hot atmospheric gases to get inside and destroy the internal wing structure. This left the spacecraft unstable, and as it came down towards Earth — it broke apart.

After the disaster, space shuttle flight operations were suspended for more than two years.

Columbia main engine powerhead recovered from Fort Polk in LouisianaNASA

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