India has come to a point where Women across all fields have been applauded and appreciated. From taking active part in India’s freedom struggle to becoming world class chefs, dazzling us with their culinary skills to leading tech. companies on their own, Indian Women had already broken the glass ceiling decades ago. Today, Women have literally reached the stars. A number of Women Spacefarers of Indian origins have made their presence felt in the Aerospace industry, and it’s high time that their contributions are acknowledged. Let us dive into the stories of some of the women of Indian origins who have ventured into space and have made significant contributions towards space exploration, and have inspired many present Indian astronauts in the process.
Kalpana Chawla – First Indian Woman in Space.
In November 1997, Kalpana Chawla created history by becoming the first women of Indian origins to travel to space. She was the Mission Specialist and Robotic Arm operator for US space shuttle Colombia. The mission, however, had a very tragic end, when the space shuttle in which Kalpana Chawla along with 7 other Astronauts disintegrated as soon as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all the crew members in the process.
Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, India in 1961. She was an Aeronautical engineer Graduate from Punjab Engineering college and later in 1988 she pursued her doctoral degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado, and began working at NASA’s research center at Colorado that very year.
Chawla’s first call for space voyage came in the year 1997 when NASA announced the commencing of the space shuttle Colombia. Kalpana Chawla with her crew made 252 successful orbits across the Earth and carried out several tasks such as onboard experiments, deployment of a satellite into the Earth’s orbit and many more.
Then in the year 2003, she got her second opportunity to travel to space with the same shuttle Colorado. After conducting over 80 different experiments in just 16 days on February 1, 2003, the crew was returning to Earth when tragedy struck. The crew had missed some damage that happened to the Shuttle’s wings and the space shuttle disintegrated just 15 minutes before landing. NASA awarded Kalpana Chawla with a Congressional Space Medal of Honor, a NASA Space Flight Medal and a NASA Distinguished Service Medal for her extraordinary contributions. Kalpana Chawla will always be remembered in history as the pioneering women in space exploration.
Sunita Williams – Marathon Runner in Space
Born on September 19, 1965, Sunita Pandya Krishna Williams was the second ever woman of Indian decent to go into space. Born in Ohio, Sunita pursued a Bachelors Degree in Physical Science back in 1987. Later she became a Helicopter Pilot and served in the Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf and the Red Sea in support of the Desert Seals. She graduated from the US Naval Test Pilot School in 1993. On December 2006, Sunita Williams was given her first opportunity to go on a space mission after applying for the same in two unsuccessful attempts. She was on-boarded on the Shuttle named Discovery as part of the 14th expedition of the ISS. While in Space, she created the world record for females, by spending 29 hours and 17 minutes outside of the space station distributed over four walking sessions. While in space she participated in the Boston Marathon – a 42 kilometer race which she did on the ISS treadmill in 4 hours, 23 minutes and 10 seconds. She remained in Space until April of 2007.
On July of 2012, Sunita Williams travelled to the same space station again where she assumed command of the ISS and became only the second woman in history to do so. She remained there until January 2013. She is a shining example of an Indian woman astronaut.
Ritu Karidhal – Rocket Woman of India
Ritu Karidhal is presently presiding as a scientist at ISRO. During her childhood years, she used to gaze into the open night sky a lot and had the hobby of collecting newspaper clippings of NASA and ISRO’s projects. Karidhal – a TedX speaker has worked on multiple projects for ISRO and she heavily influenced in contributing towards the success of the Mangalyaan Mission – India’s Mars orbiter mission as the Deputy Operations Director. The mission was commenced in April 2014, with a small window of 18 months. The unique thing about India’s Mangalyaan Mission was that the whole mission was completed with a budget of just 74 million USD. A feat that baffled space agencies throughout the world. Ritu Karidhal is truly the Rocket Woman of India.