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Farewell Columbia

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Even as a little girl, Kalpana Chawla had stars in her eyes. During the steamy summers in Karnal, India, the spirited tomboy — she studied karate, cut her own hair and never wore ironed clothes — would sleep in the courtyard, gazing up at the sky. By high school “KC” was talking about traveling to the moon, a dream that could not have seemed more impossible in a tradition-bound culture where 55 percent of women are still illiterate. “I like airplanes,” she once said. “It’s that simple.”

Chawla certainly made it look that way. At 20 she won a scholarship for graduate study in aeronautical engineering in the U.S. — and then persuaded her family to drop their objections. “She said, ‘I can get married anytime, but this will never come again,'” recalled her older brother Sanjay. As it turned out, KC met her future husband, flying instructor Jean-Pierre Harrison, 45, her very first day at the University of Texas at Arlington. “They were very much alike,” says former shuttle astronaut Winston Scott of the pair, who were married in 1984 and, in addition to flying, shared interests in scuba diving, hiking and, eventually, the rock group Deep Purple. “They were a very good team.”

No one seemed prouder than Harrison when KC made her maiden shuttle flight in 1997, only three years after being selected for the space program. This time he was again waiting at the Kennedy Space Center, along with most of her family, for the landing that never came. “What KC achieved inspired a whole generation of young women,” brother Sanjay says. “My sister will be remembered as a hero.”

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