Compared to the speed of sound or light, 10 years may seem like an eternity, but not to the colleagues and friends of the seven astronauts who perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia. NASA Ames Research Center was where Columbia Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla worked as an astronaut candidate during the early 1990s. That's where she shared an office with Christopher Atwood as they worked on computational fluid dynamics.
Dr. Atwood recalls her intellect and suitability to be an astronaut. "You can get pretty passionate about arguing over things like momentum and mass, but she was always very diplomatic about it and yet very firm. So, I think that trait led her to be a great mission specialist," he said. NASA Ames unveiled a special collection of Dr. Chawla's awards and personal items, which will be on public display through March.
At a day of remembrance ceremony, NASA Ames Mission Support Associate Director Deborah Fang pointed out astronauts know that shuttle missions involve risk, yet they have lofty goals. "They have a quality about them in terms of what's for the greater good of humanity and the exploration and the impact new discoveries will make on us as a people," she said.
The catastrophic breakup of the Columbia as it prepared to land is a painful memory. "We had a bad day," were the chilling words of Chief Flight Director Milt Heflin. However, the memory of one soul aboard, Dr. Chawla, will always bring a smile to her one-time office mate. "She introduced my wife and I to each other, again, through reaching out to friends. We're happily married to this day," Atwood said.
Even though Dr. Chawla's mission was cut short, she has nevertheless become a role model and an inspiration to countless generations of others who would like to follow in her footsteps and continue space exploration.