The Astronaut and The Pioneer

Kalpna Chawla, a role model to thousands once found a role model in JRD Tata.

Kalpana Chawla is a national hero of India and one of the most celebrated icons of modern feminism in India. The first woman of Indian origin to go into space, in 1997 she flew as a technical specialist. An asteroid and a satellite have been named after her. NASA has dedicated a supercomputer to her memory, and above all, she was an inspiration to millions of young achievers.

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Kalpana lost her life in the 2003 space shuttle disaster. The spacecraft she was travelling in disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and all seven crew members unfortunately perished. That was a sad day. India, and the world, mourned and cried.

Letter to Ratan Tata

Sometimes after her demise, Kalpana’s family wrote a letter to chairman Ratan Tata. This letter is unique because it has some beautiful flashbacks.

There was a crew autographed group picture of the Space Shuttle Mission STS-87, (her first Space Shuttle Mission), a pair of medallions commemorating her two space journeys, and an old black and white photograph. This was the photograph of JRD Tata’s inaugural mail flight, which Kalpana Chawla had carried along with her, on her first mission into space.

50th Anniversary of Flight

On 15th October 1982, JRD Tata, 78 years young, took to the skies and flew once again from Karachi to Mumbai, to recreate that pioneering first flight of fifty years ago. All the way from Pakistan to India, flew JRD, now patriarch, always a pioneer, a man who had done his best for his nation throughout his lifetime.

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“This flight of mine today”, he said, “was intended to inspire a little hope and enthusiasm in the younger people of our country, that despite all the difficulties, all the frustrations, there is a joy in having done something as well as you could, and better than others thought you could.”

JRD Tata spoke briefly to the gathering, after landing the aircraft.

One of those young people, whom he inspired such hope and enthusiasm, was Kalpana Chawla. She flew into space, and made us all so proud, sparking off the dreams of millions of young Indians. 

Heartfelt tribute from a young girl to her hero

Kalpana Chawla had always admired JRD. Before her second trip into space, she told reporters that her inspiration had always been JRD Tata.

“What JRD Tata had done during those years was very intriguing and definitely captivated my imagination.”

Kalpana Chawla before her second trip into space

There was a heartfelt tribute from a young girl to her hero. To a man who had inspired her to travel all the way from a small town in Punjab, into the far reaches of outer space. Her own, personal tribute to JRD Tata. Imagine this for a moment. This young girl had carried into space, on her very first mission, an old sepia photograph of a man whose pioneering deeds had sparked her own ambitions. Yes, she was telling us, we need such pioneers to inspire us, in our own lives. Such legends light a fire in our minds and our hearts and make us aim for the stars themselves. 

Both Kalpana Chawla and JRD Tata, the astronaut and the pioneer, are no more with us. But their legendary achievements and deeds provide us strength forever. What will Kalpana and JRD inspire each of us to do, today and tomorrow? How will we strive to achieve our own dreams, for our own fulfilment, and for the greater good of our nation and humanity?

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