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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
New York honours Indian astronaut
By Salim Rizvi
in New York

Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla is remembered by many Americans for her pioneering spirit
Almost one and a half years after the tragic disaster of the Nasa space shuttle Columbia, one of its crew, the late Indian-American astronaut Kalpana Chawla has been honoured by the New York City administration.

74th Street in the Jackson Heights area of the city has now been renamed 74 Street Kalpana Chawla Way.

Kalpana Chawla was one of the seven astronauts killed when the Columbia shuttle disintegrated in mid-air on 1 February, 2003.

The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, officially unveiled the Kalpana Chawla Way on Sunday at a simple but well attended ceremony including hundreds of people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

'Sacrificed her life'

The Jackson Heights area, also known as Little India, has a strong concentration of people of South Asian origin who strongly favoured the move to honour Chawla.

Kalpana Chawla street sign
The sign means the astronaut's name will be remembered for generations
The community has been trying for some time to get the street named after her.

The president of Jackson Heights Merchants' Association, Shiv Dass, who is of Indian origin, says that his organisation has been trying to get the street name changed since the death of Kalpana Chawla last year.

They approached City Councilwoman Helen Sears, a Democrat, who got a bill passed to this effect.

"We are so proud to have the street named after our hero Kalpana Chawla, who sacrificed her life for this country. All of us from South Asia - Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis - we are all so happy to honour one of our own," Mr Dass said.

This Jackson Heights area also serves as a major shopping centre for the South Asian community in New York and surrounding areas.

It is a hub of commercial activity and also a major centre for regional cuisines from South Asia.

Pioneering spirit

Kalpana Chawla was a naturalised American citizen who lived in the Houston suburb of Texas state, about 10 miles (16km) from Johnson Space Center.

She was born in the town of Karnal in the northern Indian state of Haryana, 75 miles (120km) from Delhi.

Jackson Heights area of new York
Jackson Heights has a large South Asian community
After moving to the United States, she earned a master's degree and a doctorate in aeronautical engineering, and became a US citizen.

In 1994, she was selected by Nasa for a rigorous one-year training programme to serve as a mission specialist on board shuttle missions.

She said that that her inspiration to take up flying was JRD Tata, who flew the first mail flights in India.

Before and after her death, Kalpana Chawla's fan base was not just restricted to the South Asian community of the United States.

People from all walks of life remember the astronaut's warm smile and pioneering spirit.

A life that ended so abruptly will now be remembered for generations to come every time they visit Jackson Heights.

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