Remembering astronaut Kalpana Chawla 15 years after Columbia tragedy

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The Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart over North Texas 15 years ago on Thursday, killing all seven crew members.

The shuttle disintegrated as it reentered the atmosphere on its way to landing in Florida. It turned out a piece of foam, that fell from an external fuel tank during launch, broke a small hole in one of the shuttle's wings.

Among those killed in the disaster was astronaut Kalpana Chawla, a beloved alumna of University of Texas at Arlington. UTA Professor Dr. Don Wilson mentored Chawla, who went by KC.

"She was quite high spirited and real motivated,” Wilson said.

In 1984, the Indian born student received her masters of science in aerospace engineering. Wilson says she was one of his brightest students.

"One that you're very proud of, we became very good friends,” Wilson said.

The two kept in touch over the years, as his one-time student became the first female astronaut from India. Wilson's office is adorned with Chawla’s achievements.

"The one I'm really proud of though I have a similar one to this at home, and she signed it to Don and Pat my adoptive family. That's the one, I'm proud of,” Wilson said.

In the 15 years since the Columbia tragedy, Chawla’s legacy lives on at UTA.

"A lot of the Indian students would say ‘I'm here because this is where KC went to school,’” Wilson said.

UTA's engineering department has a memorial in honor of Kalpana Chawla.

"Seeing how her legacy has continued to live on 15 years past, it's really inspiring to me, of course,” said UTA student Jesse Sullivan.

The memorial has pictures of her on the Columbia and even has one of her flight suits. A student too young to remember her brought flowers to pay homage on Thursday.

"The reason we explore beyond our sky, I think it's so beautiful, it's not something to forget even as time goes on,” said UTA student Nate Wade. "She gave her life in the name of science."