Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla by Anil Padmanabhan

What an inspiring story of the human spirit overcoming all seemingly impassable obstructions to reach their goal! And what a tragic, heartbreaking ending to such a remarkable life!

I was in India for four years, during the war, and was "adopted" by a wonderful Bengali family. In this position I was able to observe the Indian way of life, their culture, habits and behaviour. Even then, the young women I got to know had already emerged from the days of meek subservience to their menfolk, although there were plenty, outside their family circle, who hadn't.

So it was perhaps less of a shock to learn of the life, character, habits and career of the subject of this book. She seemed to embody the spirit of independence and (and even "feminism") which I had already encountered among the young women I knew then.

Even so, no-one ever dreamed, at that time, that a rather small, thin little girl of middle class parents in a small town hardly known to the outside world, would defy all the usual conventions and difficulties, to pursue a university career in a far away country and eventually reach the height of her most unusual ambition, via post-graduate study of aeronautics, and become – yes, an astronaut!

After outstanding educational success in her own country, she successfully overcame all the family objections and travelled to America, where her quite unique persistence achieved the desired result.

What sort of person was she? By all accounts, she was modest, even rather shy. To look at her, no-one would have suspected that she had that fierce spirit of persistence to defy the usual expectations, press on with dogged determination and achieve her seemingly impossible goal.

In addition, she showed compassion and fellow feeling and did much for those less fortunate than herself all over the world.

It all ended in a horrific explosion when the spacecraft of her last flight attempted to land. Those who had been following her remarkable career were overwhelmed at the news. Her life remains an inspirational memorial to courage, adventurousness and determination. An inspiring book.