A general physician and a surgical trainee, Shawna Pandya is one of two candidates shortlisted for the Citizen Science Astronaut program and may fly to space along with eight other astronauts in space missions slated to take flight by 2018.
Born in Alberta, Canada, Shawna has roots in Mumbai and is a powerhouse of many talents. Speaking to DC, she shares about her fascination for space when she was only 10 years old, the show Astronauts - Toughest Job In The Universe on Sony BBC Earth, and about her upcoming projects that might end up taking her to space.
She has been the kind of woman that reaches for the stars, figuratively as well as literally. Talking about her passion for space, she reveals how it all started.
“Space has been a fascination and passion for me since I was a kid. My teachers would tell you that all my science assignments would be on space and that I would roam around with books on ASTRO-physics even at that age. I had always wanted to be an astronaut. Also when my parents used to take me and my brother camping, I would look at the night sky away from the city lights and spot the milky-way and sometimes even meteor showers in summers and it was all so magical”, says Shawna.
Something so out of the world as space, has always been mystifying but is it really a cake-walk dealing with it. Ever thought of the challenges that these astronauts have to go through? Let Shawna tell you. “It can get quite busy, also if you are juggling two professions like me. In addition to the general practicing, I am pursuing an extra year of surgical training right now. It’s like giving both the programs your 110%, managing your time and schedules in advance. Some days you are required to prioritise both, for example this week has been really busy. I was going through emergency space training, like how to land a space capsule in open water in case of any emergency or fire and then come back operate on patients for a few days. And now I am leaving for the Mars mission in Utah dessert. It all might sound interesting and fun, it sure is but there are several risks related to it. You never know what space could be, you sure can train yourself and give your best but the outcomes can’t always be guessed”, explains Shawna.
And we asked Shawna about the infamous Vomit Comet as well. “It is actually a reduced gravity aircraft that provides near weightless environments for training astronauts. The plane never flies higher than a commercial jet. When I did my parabolic flight testing, we were maybe 17,000ft.above the ground whereas commercial flights fly as high as 39-40,000ft. But the way the plane accelerates, it creates stress on the body and your eyes don’t adjust to the weightlessness and send all the wrong signals to the brain and it panics, so that’s what makes you sick and vomit”, chuckles Shawna.
The adventure seeker lets us in on the two projects that she’d be busy with. “So right now I am part of two Citizen Science Astronautic projects called project ‘PoSSUM’, which stands for Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere, which will study the specific kinds of clouds related to global warming and project ‘PHEnOM’, which stands for Physiological, Health, and Environmental observations in Microgravity which will conduct cross-disciplinary research into commercial human spaceflight”, she says.
She signs off saying that she is definitely proud to possibly be the third Indian origin woman to fly to space after Sunita Williams and Kalpana Chawla, but what she actually aims for is giving her best to the job and succeeding as an astronaut. “If you prioritise your passions and commitments, it’s wonderful how much you can achieve”, says the lady herself. Well kudos to her for being the kind of person people would look up to with such admiration and much awe.