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The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Kalpana Chawla, the First American Indian astronaut. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The First Indian-American in Space

Unfortunately, space travel is a dangerous endeavor, and many lives continue to be lost as we push on with our exploration. Kalpana Chawla, the first woman of Indian origin to go to space, was one of the seven crew members who died in the Columbia disaster when the spacecraft broke apart during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. They posthumously awarded Chawla the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. The country regards her as a national hero in her native country of India. NASA Ames Research Center named the Columbia supercomputer in honor of the crew lost in the disaster. They dedicated the first part of the system to Kalpana. She worked at the Ames Research Center before joining the Space Shuttle program.

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Kalpana Chawla, STS-107 mission specialist, looks over a procedures checklist. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Kalpana was born in India and was fascinated with planes and flying even as a child. She obtained an undergraduate degree in Aeronautical Engineering and then moved to the US to pursue a graduate degree in Aerospace Engineering. One degree wasn’t enough, though; she earned a second Master’s, then a Ph.D., also in Aerospace Engineering! In 1988, she started working at NASA Ames Research Center. By 1997, they selected her to be in her first space mission. She was the first Indian woman to go into space, and her first words there were, “You are just your intelligence.”

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
Astronaut John B. Herrington, mission specialist. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The First Native American in Space

John Bennett Herrington became the first Native American to fly into space in 2002. He earned a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics before receiving his US Navy commission in 1984. John is a member of the Chickasaw tribe. To honor his heritage, he carried the Chickasaw flag up to space during his 13-day trip. Before his voyage into space, John had quite the piloting experience. They designated him as a Naval Aviator, a Fleet Replacement Squadron Instructor Pilot, and a project test pilot for the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System. Herrington even earned an MS in aeronautical engineering. They soon assigned Herrington as a special projects officer to the Bureau of Naval Personnel Sea Deputy Component. There, they picked him for the astronaut program.

The Rigorous Training Astronauts Have to Go Through
John Bennett Herrington, the First Native American in space. Photo Credit: NASA

Once selected for the program in 1996, he reported to the Space Center, where he would complete two years of training and evaluation. They initially assigned Herrington to the Flight Support Branch of the Astronaut Office. On November 23, 2002, they launched him to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center. Herrington even got to perform three spacewalks during his 13-day stay. If you come across a 2019 Sacagawea dollar coin, you’ll see his spacewalk commemorated on one face of the coin! In September 2005, John resigned from NASA, though he indicated that he would continue doing public speaking engagements and work with the Chickasaw Nation.

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