India has reached a point where women’s achievements in all sectors are being recognised and praised. The glass barrier for female astronauts is progressively crumbling, and we are progressing towards creating India, a country that provides equal opportunity to everyone, regardless of gender. These women astronauts have defied society’s prejudices and carved out a place for themselves in an industry that has traditionally been controlled by men — a reality that most women will face at some time in their careers.
These women have left an indelible imprint on the global aerospace sector, and it’s probably time for the rest of the world to recognize them. Let us look at the lives and accomplishments of these remarkable women who choose to pursue their goals and show the world that even the sky is not the limit.
Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian-American astronaut. In 1962, she was born in Karnal, India. Chawla’s father encouraged her love of flying as a child by introducing her to nearby flying clubs. She eventually left India and came to the United States to seek additional engineering degrees. She obtained a PhD in aeronautical engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder, after receiving two master’s degrees.
She joined NASA as a researcher shortly after graduating in 1988. Her research centred on vertical take-off and landing technologies, which are currently being tested by significant new spaceflight firms such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. Kalpana Chawla was chosen as an astronaut candidate by NASA in December 1994 and reported to the Johnson Space Center in March 1995. She was assigned to the Astronaut Office’s Crew Systems and Habitability section in January 1998 as a crew representative for shuttle and station flight crew equipment and later served as the section’s lead. She spent 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space on STS-87 (1997) and STS-107 (2003) missions. In the Columbia space shuttle tragedy in 2003, Kalpana Chawla succumbed. The shuttle exploded 16 minutes before its intended touchdown over Texas upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Sunita Williams became the second woman of Indian descent to fly to space, following in Chawla’s footsteps. On September 19, 1965, Sunita was born in Euclid, Ohio, to Dr Deepak and Bonnie Pandya. In 1987, she enlisted in the United States Navy as an Ensign. In July 1989, she became a Naval Aviator after joining the Naval Aviation Training Command. When Williams was chosen for the astronaut programme, she was stationed on the USS Saipan. She has accumulated over 3000 flying hours in a variety of aeroplanes.
NASA selected her as an astronaut in June 1998, and she reported for training in August of that year. In 2006, the half-Indian astronaut flew for the first time, spending 195 days on the International Space Station (ISS). In 2012, she also worked as a flight engineer on the International Space Station (ISS). Williams was one of four astronauts chosen in 2015 to fly the first test missions in NASA’s Commercial Crew programme, which will see two new commercial crewed spacecraft, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, transport astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station. Williams has spent a total of 322 days in space on two missions, putting her in second place for female endurance in the United States. She is the second-longest spacewalk by a female astronaut, with a total of 50 hours and 40 minutes.
Sirisha Bandla, an Indian-born American, will be boarding Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson’s VSS Unity, which will launch into space from New Mexico on July 11, 2021. After Kalpana Chawla, the 34-year-old aeronautical engineer from Purdue University, will be the second Indian-American woman to fly into space. Sirisha Bandla was raised in Houston, Texas, and was born in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. She started her career at Virgin Galactic in 2015 as a government affairs manager and has subsequently progressed through the company’s ranks. She has also been in charge of Virgin Orbit’s Washington operations, which recently used a 747 plane to transfer a satellite into space. Sirisha holds a Master of Business Administration from Georgetown University and is a Purdue University graduate. As an aerospace engineer, she worked for the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) and L-3 Communications in Greenville, Texas, on space policy. Sirisha will be the second Indian-born woman in space, joining Rakesh Sharma, Kalpana Chawla, and Indian-American Sunita Williams as the fourth Indian.
As the first woman astronaut Valentina Tereshkova said, “A bird cannot fly with one wing only. Human space flight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women.” The advent of space missions has reached an unprecedented level since then, and the near future looks bright for aspiring women space travellers of the world.
Visual by: Abhiskar Banik
Article by Subhayu Bhadury, The North-Eastern Chronicle