India’s First Woman Astronaut

Kalpana ChawlaKalpana Chawla was on the space shuttle Columbia during its fatal re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003.

An inspiration to millions of Indians, she is now the subject of her own biography, Dilip M Salwi’s Kalpana Chawla: India’s First Woman Astronaut.

In an extended excerpt published on rediff.com, we learn that Ayn Rand was one of her favorite authors:

In college, Kalpana showed total dedication to her subject because she enjoyed what she was doing. In fact, she was always dissatisfied with her performance and felt she could have done better. Always dressed in trousers, she used to come to college on a bicycle. As there was no girl’s hostel, initially she stayed in Mata Gujri Hall in the Punjab University campus. In fact, she changed several hostels as she found the hostel environment very noisy and distracting for studies. Later, she lived alone in one room above a garage in a bungalow.

Kalpana had a few select friends and would restrict herself to them and her studies. She learnt karate and became a black belt. She was mentally prepared to fight if any man tried to act smart with her. She also had an aesthetic sense in clothes, was fond of eating simple food and collecting precious stones. She loved a quiet environment and reading books. During those days, her favourite writers were Ayn Rand, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Salman Rushdie, Richard Bach and Oriana Fallaci. She would even persuade other friends to read these writers. Besides helping her friends in studies, she regularly paid the fees of one poor batch mate out of her pocket money without the girl’s knowledge. Although she believed herself to be no less than any boy and could do any task that they could, she disliked the more aggressive women’s liberation movement of the West.

Ayn Rand’s novels are quite popular in India. In fact, the Atlasphere currently contains 71 profiles from India [update 10/14/04: now more than 250 profiles from India] ? more than any other country but the United States.

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