Maine Township street naming honors astronaut, South Asian community
Dee Road between Emerson Street and West Oaks Avenue in unincorporated Maine Township has been designated as Honorary Kalpana Chawla Way in recognition of the late U.S. astronaut. | Jennifer Johnson~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 13, 2012 4:19PM
MAINE TOWNSHIP — Kalpana Chawla didn’t have a direct connection to Maine Township, but the late U.S. astronaut, killed in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, is receiving permanent recognition near a local park.
In unincorporated Maine Township a stretch of Dee Road between Emerson Street and West Oaks Avenues has been designated “Honorary Kalpana Chawla Way.” An honorary street sign at the southwest corner of Dee and Emerson was unveiled during the township’s National Night Out event Aug. 7.
For Maine Township Highway Commissioner Robert Provenzano the sign is a tribute to the area’s large South Asian community and he hopes residents will be inspired when they see it.
“She was a great woman who accomplished so much in the space industry,” Provenzano said of Chawla. “I thought it was very fitting. She’s someone who could be a role model for the children here.”
He added: “This is a person everyone can relate to. It puts religion aside and politics aside. That’s why we felt this would be the perfect match, the perfect fit for our community.”
The idea to honor Chawla’s memory came while Provenzano was looking through a file of proposed projects and remembered that a young girl had approached him at a National Night Out event a few years earlier and the topic of Chawla’s status as a U.S. astronaut of Indian descent came up. He decided to do some research and, while meeting with residents in the community, learned that most of the children he spoke with knew of her.
“She’s a prominent and well-known role model in the (Indian-American) community,” Provenzano said.
The location of Dee and Emerson was chosen for the sign because Dee Park is a gathering place for the neighborhood’s South Asian residents, Provenzano explained.
“That park there is like a community center for the Indian community,” he said.
Rita Shah, a resident who participated in the Aug. 7 dedication with her daughter, Tina, called the sign “an honor” for the Indian-American community.
“A lot of people are able to see her name up there. I think they feel very good,” she said.
During the dedication Shah also explained the significance of the sign in Gujarati, a language spoken by a number of residents in the area.
Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian-born woman to fly in space. She was born in Karnal, Haryana, India, in 1961 and after earning a Ph.D from the University of Colorado she joined the NASA Ames Research Center in San Francisco. Her first space flight was in 1997; her last was in 2003 aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, which blew apart upon re-entry to the Earth, killing all the crew on board.
According to NASA, Chawla made 252 orbits of Earth during her astronaut career. She was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.