File photo of Kalpana Chawla, Space Shuttle mission specialist for STS-107, as she poses for a picture on Dec. 18, 2002, at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Columbia broke up upon re-entry to earth Feb. 1, 2003. (NASA/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has hailed Indian-origin Kalpana Chawla as an American hero for devoting her life to the space program and inspiring millions of girls to become astronauts, writes Lalit K. Jha.

Trump’s remarks came, April 30, as he issued a proclamation declaring May as ‘Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.’ The U.S. Congress has also designated the month of May each year as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.”

Chawla, 40, was the first Indian American woman to fly in space. She was one of the seven crew members who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003 when the spacecraft disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Indian American Kalpana Chawla was the first woman of Indian descent to fly in space, and became an American hero for her devotion to the Space Shuttle program and its various missions transporting cargo and crew to and from the International Space Station,” Trump said.

For her achievements, the Congress posthumously awarded her the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) posthumously awarded her the NASA Space Flight Medal and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, he said.

“Ms. Chawla’s courage and passion continue to serve as an inspiration for millions of American girls who dream of one day becoming astronauts,” said Trump.

The proclamation noted that during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Trump administration recognizes their tremendous contributions.

“Through their industriousness and love of country, our nation has enjoyed the privileges and enrichments of multiple innovations and societal advancements,” Trump said.

There are more than 20 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who call America home, including those living in Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.

America is a country that values hard work, an honest living, and a commitment to the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Trump said.

“For these reasons, America cherishes its connections with the Indo-Pacific region, which shares an appreciation for these principles, he asserted.

Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage help to reinforce these relationships, which are stronger today than ever before,” he added.