joined the NASA 'Astronaut Corps' in March 1995 and was selected for her
first flight in 1996. She spoke the following words while traveling in the
weightlessness of space, "You are just your intelligence". She had
traveled 10.4 million km, as many as 252 times around the Earth.
first space mission began on November 19, 1997 as part of the six-astronaut
crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia
flight STS-87. Chawla was the first Indian-born woman and the second
Indian person to fly in space, following cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma who flew in 1984 in a spacecraft. On
her first mission Chawla traveled over 10.4 million miles in 252 orbits of the
earth, logging more than 372 hours in space. During STS-87, she was responsible
for deploying the Spartan Satellite
which malfunctioned, necessitating a spacewalk by Winston Scott and Takao
Doi to capture the satellite. A five-month NASA investigation fully
exonerated Chawla by identifying errors in software interfaces and the defined
procedures of flight crew and ground control.
the completion of STS-87 post-flight activities, Chawla was assigned to
technical positions in the astronaut office to work on the space station, her
performance in which was recognized with a special award from her peers.
2000 she was selected for her second flight as part of the crew of STS-107.
This mission was repeatedly delayed due to scheduling conflicts and technical
problems such as the July 2002 discovery of cracks in the shuttle engine flow
liners. On January 16, 2003, Chawla finally returned to space aboard Columbia on the ill-fated STS-107
mission. Chawla 's responsibilities included the microgravity experiments, for which the crew conducted
nearly 80 experiments studying earth and space science, advanced technology
development, and astronaut health and safety.