From performing a brain surgery to being a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, to walking the ramp as a model, Dr. Shawna Pandya’s life has been one adventure after another. Now the 32-year-old neurosurgeon from Alberta, Canada is embarking upon another one – Pandya will soon become the third woman of Indian origin to fly in space after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams.
Pandya was one of two candidates shortlisted from 3,200 people in the Citizen Science Astronaut program and will fly with eight other astronauts in 2018.
“Since I was a kid, I loved space, I loved the stars. So this kind of is a realization of a life-long dream,” she told the Edmonton Sun.
Pandya completed her B.Sc in neuroscience at University of Alberta, followed by M.Sc. in space sciences at International Space University. Thereafter, she got her MD in Medicine from University of Alberta. Pandya, who is trained in multiple languages including French, Spanish and Russian, also wields a black belt in Taekwondo which she frequently tests in various championships, her bio data on the National Space Society website says. She is also a competitive taekwondo athlete and has learnt French, Spanish and Russian.
Last year, Pandya spent a week training in Project PoSSUM’s (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) far-out Scientist-Astronaut Course at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. The training aimed to familiarize candidates with conditions that exist around noctilucent clouds, which are thought to be increasing in the upper mesosphere as a result of climate change, the Hindustan Times reported.
Through the course of her medical career, Pandya has trained in neurosurgery, encountering many adventures along the way, including rotations in cardiac surgery in India, orthopedic surgery in Ecuador, reconstructive surgery at Stanford and Aerospace Medicine at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, her bio state says. In addition to NASA, Pandya has also worked at the European Astronaut Center’s Crew Medical Support Office in Germany and earned a Masters’ degree from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.
In her spare time, Pandya is a motivational speaker, promoting entrepreneurship and big ideas. Her recently-launched podcast series T alkMedTech covers developments in medicine, technology and innovation. Previous talks include closing keynote speaker at the 2011 Congress of the Agency for the Science, Technology and Research as a guest of the Singapore government, alongside Nobel Laureates and Harvard Faculty. She has also spoken at TEDxEdmonton 2010, BIL2010, schools, conferences and workshops as far and wide as India, Scotland and South Korea.
She also serves as guest lecturer in the University of Alberta’s Technology and the Future of Medicine course. In her LinkedIn profile, Pandya describes herself as being passionate about the two ‘extremes’ of humanity – surviving and thriving – namely furthering technological innovation and human knowledge and tackling humanity’s grandest challenges to effect positive social change.
Pandya previously served as co-founder of CiviGuard, Inc., a Silicon Valley start-up based at NASA-Ames and incubated by Singularity University. CiviGuard’s mission is to save lives in crisis situations by improving coordination, collaboration and communication between key agencies, and also between authorities and civilians.
Her awards include being named a finalist for the 2009 ASTech “Leader of Tomorrow” award for leadership and innovation in science, technology and entrepreneurship, Rhodes scholarship provincial finalist, two-time Peter Lougheed scholar and Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation National Laureate.