Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian woman who reached into space. As a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator, she went to space in 1997.
As I complete almost two years of research and writing on Amelia Earhart, I've come to realize her powerful influence on my own life as a pilot. Fifty years separated her experience from mine, yet we shared the mysteries of early learning, of pilotage that comes from hard work and an innate sense of freedom, and of holding true to certain behaviors that always saw us through. Earhart learned at the beginning of aviation, while I gained the skill of flight in an era far less dangerous. We both felt the trials of gender and a serious regard for keeping to the high side of performance. In this time of empowerment, becoming a pilot has never been easier for a woman. But it has also never lost its lofty responsibility in the face of lesser numbers and sometimes fewer advantages. Earhart wouldn't have let that stop her, once saying, "Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others."

In her spirit, hundreds of other women have kept trying, including me, at least for a time. They will continue to the stars and into the realms of far-flung space. And as they go through time, perhaps fewer will think of her, but all will owe her, if for no other reason than her ability to envision this kind of future for women and aviation. Amelia Earhart once roamed the skies of America and the world, sometimes alone, and often in the face of incomparable odds. We will never see her likes again. But I am sure that some little girl, somewhere on this planet, will take up her mission of discovery, will expand our universe through her own solitary journey sometime in the near future. It will probably be in space, and it will likely be as closely watched as Earhart once was. I would tell that little girl, over the course of her own education, to keep a locket with Earhart's picture on her person. To wear it often, perhaps always, on her own long and precarious sojourns. And to know, she'll never, ever, be alone.

This, then, is my thanks to all those sources, including books, historical documents, researchers, archivists, authors, pilots, long-time admirers, and mysterious collectors of data, who have helped me through long days and nights of writing my own version of Earhart's flying legacy. In so doing, I considered my own. The writing brought us together, perhaps even, the two of us in one cockpit for a brief period of time. Through researching her dilemmas, I came to better understand mine. In the end, Amelia Earhart helped me interpret a sky-world rich in detail and demand, a world as foreign as any Starfleet women may one day command. For that and more, I'll always be gratefu

Future Fliers