Dr Shawna Pandya is a neurosurgeon in Canada’s Alberta University Hospital. She is also an astronaut preparing for two space missions. When they take off, she will be the third woman of Indian origin, after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams, to fly to space.
Born in Canada, the 32-year-old was shortlisted from more than 3,200 candidates from the country after topping the Citizen Science Astronaut (CSA) programme. She will fly with eight other astronauts in space missions slated to take off by 2018.
Pandya, currently in Mumbai to meet her family in their Mahalaxmi home, said being an astronaut has been a passion since she was a teen. But she loves medicine. She is also an opera singer, author, international taekwon-do champion and even trained in Muay Thai with a Navy SEAL. “If you prioritise your passions and commitments, it’s wonderful how much you can achieve,” she told HT.
So, what is Pandya’s mission in space? Pandya said she will do experiments in bio-medicine and medical science. She is part of a project called Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere (PoSSUM), which will study the effects of climate change. She will also work on Physiological, Health, and Environmental Observations in Microgravity (PHEnOM), and is a prime crew member of Project Poseidon, a 100-day underwater mission at the Aquarius Space Research Facility in Florida.
While in Mumbai, Dr Pandya has been giving motivational talks to resident doctors and students. “On Tuesday, I met students from Lilavatibai Podar High School. The questions they asked me were brilliant, right from zero-gravity experiences to outer space.”
Pandya said there is tremendous potential in the people in India. “When I talk to students, medical undergraduates, I realise they have the zeal to venture out, but aren’t always aware of the ways in which they can. All we need is to get acquainted with everyday developments in science, be resilient and always try to achieve something bigger.”