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Please don’t misinterpret: Haryana girl after social media fame over Mars Mission that wasn’t

A social media frenzy began after a Union minister tweeted a message on September 24 about Josan’s “selection” for the Mars Mission.

india Updated: Oct 11, 2017 09:19 IST
Neeraj Mohan and Yashwant Raj
Neeraj Mohan and Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh/Washington
Jasleen Kaur Josan,Mars Mission 2030,Fake news
Jasleen Josan has denied being selected for the Mars Mission.(Facebook)

For a brief while, Jasleen Kaur Josan was the toast of social media, all thanks to a tweet from a Union minister and reports in sections of the media that the 24-year-old had been chosen for NASA’s Mars Mission in 2030.

It all began when Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal tweeted a message on September 24 about Josan’s “selection” for the Mars Mission. She posted a picture of Josan in a Nasa uniform with the caption, “The first Indian Sikh woman who has been selected by NASA to go to Mars.”

The tweet took on a life of its own, and several websites that track the Sikh diaspora soon reeled out breathless stories about the starry feats of the girl from Kurukshetra in Haryana. Some compared her to late Kalpana Chawla, the astronaut from Karnal who was aboard the space shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003.

However, NASA said no one by that name was on its rolls of astronauts, past and present, including the newest batch of 12 “astronaut candidates” announced in June, or had been selected for the manned mission that will make a fly-by around the Red Planet in 2030.

The US space agency’s Mars Mission spokesperson, Kathryn Hambleton, said Josan is also not among “active astronauts” who are trained, experienced and ready to be assigned to missions, such as Sunita Williams, or “management astronauts”, who are currently in the employ of Nasa but not eligible to fly missions any more.

Hambleton acknowledged Nasa’s plans for a manned fly-by mission around Mars in 2030, with the possibility of a surface landing at a future date.

Josan, contacted on email, denied being selected for the Mars Mission. “I am an aspiring astronaut. I never claimed that I got selected and was going to Mars in 2030,” she clarified.

Born into a family of agriculturists, Josan completed her BTech in aeronautical engineering from Satyabhama University in Chennai in 2015, and is pursuing a masters in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She describes herself as an “aspiring astronaut (astrophysicist) on her Facebook page, and a graphic on the page refers to her as a “research scientist” on Mars Mission 2030.

At pains to clear the air, Josan wrote, “It’s my request to media to not misunderstand the terms (aspiring astronaut and astronaut). I hope I helped you to clear this misunderstanding. If you have any further queries, I would like to clear them in my words.”

She made headlines in 2015 when she was part of the International Space Education Institute Team-Germany that secured second position in the university division of NASA’s second annual human exploration rover challenge. Josan was part of an eight-member team that included participants from India, Germany and Russia.

Josan said she aspired to be the “first Indian lady to go to Mars for which I am working on a few of my proposals and research”. She added, “I am doing my postgraduation and will be starting my pilot training soon, also I am assisting few professors in research on a NASA-contracted project.”

In a post on Facebook, Josan said: “Mars 2030 is a long way…from now…even NASA has not made any such announcement yet about the final selection of astronauts to go to Mars, they are still working on it.”

She added, “I will continue working on my research on Mars and training, and on myself to be one in near future, and I am sure I will definitely make you all proud.

Despite Josan’s clarification, reports of her “selection” for the Mars Mission continue to do the rounds, the latest being a tweet from RPG Enterprises chairman Harsh Goenka, who said she had been chosen for the manned mission to the Red Planet.

First Published: Oct 10, 2017 18:30 IST