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The spacecraft, a Northrop Grumman Cygnus, will arrive at and be attached to the space station two days later.
The spacecraft, a Northrop Grumman Cygnus, will arrive at and be attached to the space station two days later.

NASA lifts off SS Kalpana Chawla cargo spacecraft

By Reena Bhardwaj | Updated: Oct 03, 2020 08:13 IST

Wallops Island [US], October 3 (ANI): A commercial cargo spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS) launched on Friday night carrying the name of deceased NASA astronaut Kalpana "K.C." Chawla, the first Indian-born woman to enter space, for her key contributions to human spaceflight.

The S.S. Kalpana Chawla launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 09:16 pm EDT.

The spacecraft, a Northrop Grumman Cygnus, will arrive at and be attached to the space station two days later.

On the NG-14 mission, the S.S. Kalpana Chawla will deliver approximately 3,630 kilograms of cargo to the station.

Research flying aboard the Cygnus includes the test of a biologic drug that could be used for the treatment of leukemia, a plant growth study that will cultivate radishes as a model for future crops in space, a compact toilet for astronauts to use on deep-space exploration missions and a 360-degree virtual reality camera that will be used to film during a spacewalk for an immersive cinematic production.

Robyn Gatens, acting director of the International Space Station at NASA headquarters, said that the flight is carrying 6,000 pounds of cargo including refined radishes and a 3D camera, that's going to go on the outside of the space station to take images when the crew is doing a spacewalk.

"Well, we've got a little bit of everything on this flight we've got 6000 pounds of cargo going up, we have the. We have several things enabling future exploration missions, beyond the space station, so our missions to the moon and to Mars. Not only do we have the toilet, that you've heard about but we have another one in our series of fire safety experiments called Sapphire, we have a component of our new spacesuit that we'll be testing in microgravity on the space station," Gatens said.

"We have an advanced particulate monitor to measure airborne particulates and several things than that. That's going to help us enable future exploration missions. We also have science experiments. So we have, we have cancer research going on on this on this flight rehab. We have refined radishes. In our advanced plant habitats. And then we have outreach," Gatens added.

Melissa McKinley, NASA project manager for the universal waste management systems project, elaborated about the newly-designed toilet which was sent to the station on a cargo ship.

“The toilet is smaller than you know usually what's the primary concept for this project is to reduce mass and volume for exploration missions. With that in mind, the UW MS is 65% smaller and 40% lighter than the current toilet on ISS. If you think of it in terms of the toilet at your house it's similar in size, except that it doesn't have a tank behind it so it's very similar to a unit you might see here on the ground, but obviously much more complex," Mckinley said.

When the Kalpana Chawla spacecraft lift off its launchpad atop a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket it marked a special moment for many, including Kalpana's husband.

"I would say that Kalpana would be very flattered that this rocket is named after her," Jean Pierre Harrison told ANI. In an interview he further added that the launch even had a larger context, "Indians can compete with the rest of the world to be successful."

While Chawla made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the space program, her legacy lives on. She has not only inspired her colleagues but also many back in India, to follow in her footsteps.

Her final research conducted onboard Columbia helped understand astronaut health and safety during spaceflight.

Robert Curbeam, Kalpana's fellow astronaut friend and now the Vice President Business Development, Tactical Space Systems Division for Northrop Grumman spoke to ANI remembering Kalpana. 

"She was an absolutely brilliant woman. And I am so proud to count her as a friend. I think the most important thing we learned from the Columbia disaster was that the hardware talks to you. And when things don't act as they're designed to act, you have to pay very very close attention because all the different pieces of the spacecraft interact with one another."

Northrop Grumman, an American global aerospace and defence technology company said that this mission is named after Chawla in memory of the mission specialist who died with her six crewmates aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 2003 Northrop Grumman stated that it is proud to celebrate the life of Kalpana Chawla and her dream of flying through the air and in space.

"It is the company's tradition to name each Cygnus after an individual who has played a pivotal role in human spaceflight," said Northrop Grumman.

Born in Haryana, India, Chawla moved to the United States to earn her master's and doctorate degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in 1984 and the University of Colorado in 1988, respectively.

She then began her career at NASA, conducting research in fluid dynamics at the Ames Research Center in California.

After becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, Chawla applied for and became a NASA astronaut as a member of "The Flying Escargot," NASA's 15th class of trainees. In 1997, she launched on STS-87, a 15-day shuttle mission that was dedicated to the science flying as part of the fourth United States Microgravity Payload (USMP-4).

Chawla's second spaceflight, STS-107, came to a tragic end on February 1, 2003, following 16 days of conducting science onboard the space shuttle Columbia.

A small piece of foam that struck the orbiter's left wing during launch created a hole that went undetected during the mission.

Upon Columbia's return to Earth, hot plasma entered the wing, tearing it apart, and the resulting loss of control led to the vehicle disintegrating and the death of the crew. (ANI)