Ten years ago on Feb. 1, 2003, the Colombia space shuttle broke apart as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. All seven astronauts on board were killed, including CU alum Kalpana “K.C.” Chawla (MAero’86, PhD’88, HonDocSci’03). She was 41 years old and was on her second shuttle mission.
Chawla, a native of Karnal, India, was an accomplished pilot and took her love of flying to space. She attended Punjab Engineering College where she was the only woman in the aerospace engineering program before moving to the U.S. She spent eight years at CU and continued her work with NASA.
Aboard the Columbia shuttle, she set up and ran experiments designed by school children from around the world and operated CU’s Mechanics of Granular Materials project, which studied soil mechanics, earthquake engineering and granular flow.
Since her death, the CU-Boulder Alumni Association has honored Chawla through the Kalpana Chawla Outstanding Recent Graduate Award, which recognizes CU-Boulder alumni who have made exceptional contributions through their field within ten years of leaving CU.