Shawna Pandya, the 3rd Indian-origin woman to fly to space, has roots in Mumbai

Friday, 10 February 2017

Dr Shawna Pandya is a general physician in Canada’s Alberta University Hospital. She is also an astronaut preparing for two crucial space missions. When they take off, she will be only 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 after topping the Citizen Science Astronaut (CSA) program.

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 began as a neurosurgeon before switching fields. She is also a 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.”

Talking about her roots in India, Pandya said the there is there is tremendous potential in the people. “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.”