- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

NEW DELHI, Feb. 1 (UPI) — India Saturday mourned the loss of astronaut Kalpana Chawla, one of seven killed in the Columbia space shuttle tragedy.

Chawla, 42, born in the northern Indian town of Karnal, is believed to have perished along with six other astronauts minutes before Columbia was due to land in Florida. It was her second shuttle mission.

Teachers, students and relatives Saturday remembered Chawla as a bright student who became a national heroine after becoming the first Indian-born woman to travel in space.

The staff of Tagore Bal Niketan Senior Secondary School in Karnal, where Kalpana studied as a child, were preparing for celebrations when they heard of the news. The celebrations were cancelled.

Celebrations planned by the town of Karnal also were abandoned following the accident.

"We were all so excited to celebrate her second trip to space," said Tagore school administrator V.N. Rao, who referred to Chawla as "brilliant."

"It is all over now," he told United Press International.

Chawla's brother, Sanjay, was watching the news with a friend when he heard of the accident. He refused calls from prime minister's office, saying he was in a state of grief after confirming the news with his wife in the United States. Chawla's parents and other siblings had been at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to see her second launch.

Fellow student Dinesh Gupta remembered Chawla as a smiling and cheerful person. "I am happy that I shared same bench with her in the school," Gupta said.

"She was extremely dynamic student," Professor Y. S. Chauhan of Chawla's alma mater, the Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh, told UPI.

Chauhan had taught Chawla aircraft propulsion, theoretical aerodynamics and aircraft materials. "I taught her these subjects and I am disturbed that these very subjects might be involved in the disintegration of the shuttle," he said.

Chawla, a flight engineer and mission specialist for the Columbia mission, also held a Certificated Flight Instructor's license with airplane as well as glider ratings, Commercial Pilot's licenses for single- and multi-engine land and seaplanes, and gliders.

In a June 2002 interview with CNN, she described her training for the shuttle's takeoff and landing. "To play a role in that is just tremendous," she said. "I have lived my life for that, in some sense."

India's minister for science and technology issued a statement Saturday: "I am deeply shocked at the tragedy both as a physicist and as the minister for science and technology," said Murli Manohar Joshi. "This is very unfortunate that an otherwise successful mission met with an accident just a few minutes before landing."

Chawla was flight engineer and mission specialist aboard the shuttle Columbia. She graduated from Punjab Engineering College before beginning work at NASA Ames Research Center in fluid dynamics. She received a master's degree in 1984 from the University of Texas, and in 1988 received doctorate of philosophy in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado.

NASA selected Chawla as an astronaut candidate in 1994, and she joined the 15th group of astronauts in March 1995.

Chawla was married to Jean-Pierre Harrison, who she met after moving to the United States.

Before her first launch Nov. 19, 1997, Chawla had said: "I pretty much had my dreams, like anybody else and I followed them. People around me fortunately always encouraged and said, 'If that's what you want to do, carry on.'"

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