The news spreads about a 32-year old neurosurgeon from Alberta in Canada, Shawna Pandya, who will soon become the third women of Indian origins to fly into space, after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. This was part of the Citizen Science Astronaut program, where the Indian astronaut was selected amongst 3,200 candidates. Shawna will fly along with 8 other astronauts in 2018. “I have been obsessed with astronomy since I was 10. The idea about doing something adventurous or exploring the space resonated well with me,” extols Shawna.
Having roots in Mumbai, Shawna was born in Canada. Apart from being an accomplished neurosurgeon, the astronaut is also a singer, author, and international taekwondo champion. Additionally, she has learnt French, Spanish, and Russian language. Shawna remarks, “You can achieve a lot when you start prioritizing your passion and commitments.”
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Shawna had originally completed her B.Sc in neuroscience from University of Alberta, following which she did her M.Sc. in space sciences at International Space University, and she went onto conclude her education by pursuing MD in Medicine from University of Alberta.
Shawna’s mission in space entails performing experiments in bio-medicine and medical science, besides working on Physiological, Health, and Environmental Observations in Microgravity (PHEnOM). She will also be studying effects of climatic change as part of a project called Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere (PoSSUM).
Shawna had last year spent a week training in Project PoSSUM’s far-out Scientist-Astronaut Course at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in US. She had to wear spacesuits, ride on aerobic flights, and experience altering gravity environments during the training. Through this training, candidates were being made familiar with conditions that exist around noctilucent clouds, which are thought to be increasing in the upper mesosphere because of climate change.
About India, she believes that Indian people have a tremendous potential within themselves. Shawna concludes, “Talking to students and medical undergraduates makes me realize that Indians have the zeal to venture, but are unaware of the ways to do it. We need to make them acquainted with everyday developments in science, while being resilient and striving to achieve something bigger.”